According to an AODA Alliance news release and a Nov. 18, 2013, Toronto Star article, the Ontario government knows that fully 70 per cent of Ontario private sector organizations with at least 20 employees have not complied with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act’s (AODA) reporting requirements.
This is not surprising because in my experience, most small businesses are simply not aware of the law. It is not a pressing issue for small businesses on a day-to-day basis. In fact, I suspect very few small businesses are ever asked to accommodate a person with a disability. And those that have been asked have done so in an informal low/no cost way without reference to any particular law.
Small employers do not comply with other employment laws as well.
For example, most salaried employees who work more than 44 hours a week are entitled to receive overtime pay for all weekly hours in excess of 44 under the Employment Standards Act (ESA). There are exceptions to this requirement, but I suspect thousands of Ontario employees are missing out on overtime pay.
Similarly, employers with more than 20 employees are required to establish a joint health and safety committee under the Occupational Health & Safety Act (OHSA) and the worker and management representatives must receive certain training and carry out numerous duties. Many such employers do not comply with this statutory requirement.
As of July 1, 2014, all employers must provide mandatory health and safety awareness training to almost all employees under the OHSA. I suspect a year from now more than 50 per cent of small employers will not have complied with this legislation.
Most small employers have not even heard of the Pay Equity Act and therefore have not complied with it.
The reason for this high rate of non-compliance is because small employers simply do not know all of their statutory obligations. There are many laws and they are being amended regularly.
The AODA, the ESA, the OHSA, and the Pay Equity Act (and their many regulations) are only four of many employment laws that apply to Ontario workplaces.
The Ontario government will initially try to increase employer awareness of the AODA through public education and workplace audits. Enforcement will come later, if at all.
The Ontario government has a small number of inspectors to enforce employment laws. Unless an employee complains or an employer is audited, most statutory violations – including violations of the AODA – will not be identified or remedied.
In the meantime, I believe that employment laws will continue to be broken by small employers in Ontario because neither the employer nor the employee is aware of these laws. These employers cannot afford a human resources specialist and they don’t have time to keep up to date on changes in the employment laws.
The Ontario government needs to decide whether all of these new laws need to apply to small business. For example, is the AODA really needed when we already have the Ontario Human Rights Code? Is mandatory health and safety training needed when an employer already has training obligations under OHSA?
In a perfect world, small employers would have the time to keep up to date on new laws and have the resources to comply with these laws. They don’t.
The choice is clear: As a law-abiding society, do we pass laws that are widely known, accepted and enforced, or do we keep introducing new laws that we know will not be known, followed, or enforced?