2. Overview of Employment Law in Ontario

This video provides an overview of employment law in Ontario and outlines four key pieces of employment legislation in Ontario. The text below provides a summary of the video, and additional information about Ontario employment laws at a glance.

To read along, click here.

Employment Law: A Brief Introduction

Employment Law

One of the primary factors that regulates the workplace environment is employment law, and there are different types of law involved.

  • Provincial government laws (statutes and legislation) vary from province to province, and each province or territory’s laws apply to the people and businesses in that province. This course will focus on provincial employment law, since the majority of businesses and industries in Canada are covered by provincial employment law.
  • Common law also sets down rules that have to be followed by employers. Common law, or judges’ decisions, create precedents or rules that become an accepted part of the law over time.
  • Federal employment laws (Government of Canada) apply to federally regulated businesses and industries and are not discussed in this course.

Employment Law vs. Contract Law

It is important to note that:

  • Employment law applies to employees only, not to independent contractors.
  • An employee is a person who engages in regular business activities set out by an employer in return for salary or wages.
  • An independent contractor provides services to a business, often on a contract basis.

Ontario Employment Laws at a Glance

Since employment law is mainly provincial, it will differ depending on which province or territory you are in. Employment law in Ontario governs many different aspects of employment. For instance, to make sure that employers treat their employees fairly, pay them enough money, give them a safe workplace, and follow requirements if they get sick or injured. The following four pieces of legislation are important when considering employment law in Ontario:

1. The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA)

This law was enacted in 1979, and its goal is to provide the structure and tools to make Ontario’s workplaces safe and healthy. It specifies various rights and duties of all parties in the workplace. The Act has evolved over the years to ultimately strengthen the requirements for occupational health and safety in Ontario workplaces. Of note, employers have the most responsibility when it comes to workplace health and safety, but both employers and employees have a role to play to ensure that health and safety requirements are met and to promote health and safety in the workplace.

The Ontario Ministry of Labour provides further information on workplace health and safety, including a Guide to the OHSA.

2. The Workplace Safety and Insurance Act (WSIA)

This Act replaces an older Act that made sure that workers who got injured on the job would get the financial support they needed. The old Worker’s Compensation Act was passed in Ontario in 1914. The new legislation was passed in 1997, and moved toward a less centralized system of compensation, with less of the costs of compensation being paid by the Government of Ontario and more focus on each organization’s internal health and safety systems. The levels of compensation were also somewhat reduced at the same time.

The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) administers claims and payments under the WSIA. The WSIB website includes an open-access WSIA eLearning Series for Employers that is a useful resource to explore.

3. The Employment Standards Act (ESA)

This law sets out requirements to ensure employers treat workers fairly. The ESA sets minimum standards for workplaces in Ontario. It outlines the rights and responsibilities of both employees and employers in Ontario workplaces. It regulates matters such as hours of work, rest periods, overtime pay, minimum wage, benefit plans, medical leave (for the employee or if the employee needs to care for a sick family member), pregnancy and parental leave, other leaves of absence, vacation time and pay, and termination notice and pay.

The Ontario Ministry of Labour provides information on employment standards, including a Guide to the ESA, as well as some helpful Employment Standards Tools.

4. The Ontario Human Rights Code 

The Ontario Human Rights Code was passed in 1962, and was the first legislation of its kind in Canada. It replaced the province’s existing anti-discrimination legislation. It prohibits discrimination in accommodation (housing); contracts; employment; goods, services and facilities; and membership in unions, trade or professional associations on the grounds of: race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, record of offences, marital status, family status, and disability. Gender identity and gender expression were added to the list of grounds in 2012. The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) investigates all claims of discrimination and harassment under the Ontario Human Rights Code.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) has excellent resources for more information on human rights in Ontario including:

It is important to note that this course does not include a comprehensive list of legislation that impacts your workplace. There is other legislation that impacts your everyday employment practices and processes. For instance, employers have a duty to accommodate persons with disabilities. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA) provides a framework for developing and implementing accessibility standards in organizations including:

  • Customer service standard
  • Information and communications standard
  • Transportation standard
  • Employment standard
  • Design of public spaces standard

Visit the following links for more information:

Knowledge Check: How Employment Law Affects You and Your Business

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