On March 13, 2023, the Ontario Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development (the “Ministry”) announced that Minister Monte McNaughton was proposing changes to Ontario’s Employment Standards Act, 2000 (“ESA”) as part of the package of expanded employee rights that began with the Working for Workers Act, 2021 and 2022. One week later, on March 20, 2023, Minister McNaughton introduced Bill 79, Working for Workers Act, 2023, which proposes changes to several statutes in Ontario, including the ESA and the Occupational Health and Safety Act (“OHSA”).
At this stage, the 2023 legislation appears to propose less significant amendments than its predecessors from 2021 and 2022. However, the Working for Workers Act, 2023 still proposes a number of key changes as follows:
- Mass Termination: Remote employees would be eligible for the enhanced notice for mass termination that “in-office” employees are entitled to under the ESA. Currently, the ESA requires increased notice of termination or pay in lieu of notice to be paid to employees when 50 or more employees are terminated in the same four-week period at the employer’s “establishment”. The proposed legislation would amend the definition of “establishment” so that remote workers would be included in calculating if 50 or more employees are being terminated in the same four-week period. This increased notice can range between 8 and 16 weeks, regardless of an employee’s length of service.
- Increased Fines for Employers: The Employment Protection for Foreign Nationals Act, 2009 would be amended to increase the maximum amount a Ministry officer can penalize an employer convicted of withholding a foreign national’s passport or work permit. Those convicted could face fines up to $500,000 or 12 months imprisonment for individuals or a fine of up to $1,000,000 for corporations. The maximum fine for corporations convicted of an offence under the OHSA would also be increased from $1.5 million to $2 million. Both of the proposed increases would make the fines the highest of their kind in Canada.
- Licenses for Recruiters and Temporary Help Agencies: Stricter licensing requirements would be instituted for recruiters and temporary help agencies under the ESA regarding compliance with the Employment Protection for Foreign Nationals Act, 2009.
- New Hires: The Lieutenant Governor in Council would have the ability to make a regulation under the ESA requiring employers to provide prospective employees with written information about their position. Press releases from the Ministry have suggested that this would include providing employees with information about their pay, work location and hours of work before the employee’s start date.
- Military Reservist Leave: The ESA’s job-protected leave for military reservists would be expanded to include time off to recover from physical or mental injuries that resulted from participation in a military operation or activity.
- International Credential Recognition: The Fair Access to Regulated Professions and Compulsory Trades Act, 2006 would be amended to help remove barriers for internationally trained professionals seeking entry to a regulated profession in Ontario. This would include expanding the criteria for satisfying qualifications with experience outside of Canada.
In its press release announcing the Working for Workers Act, 2023, the Ministry also indicated that the Government of Ontario would be proposing additional legislative changes, which were not included in the first draft of Bill 79. These amendments are expected to include:
- Entry into Skilled Trades: Students in Grade 11 would be allowed to transition to a full-time skilled trades apprenticeship program. After receiving their Certificate of Apprenticeship, these workers would be able to apply for their Ontario Secondary School Diploma as mature students.
- Removing Barriers for Women in Construction: New regulatory amendments would require that jobsites in the skilled trades have at least one women’s-only washroom, as well as properly fitting equipment such as boots, safety harnesses and uniforms.
- WSIB Coverage: Expanding Workplace Safety and Insurance Board compensation for firefighters, fire investigators and their families by expanding presumptive cancer coverage to include thyroid and pancreatic cancer.
Bill 79 was carried at First Reading on Monday, March 20, 2023. It is expected that it will proceed to Second Reading and then on to a committee for further consideration and public consultation.
We will continue to monitor the progress of this Bill and any other legislative amendments as they arise.
If you have questions regarding these proposed changes or how the legislation will affect your workplace, please contact one of the authors or your usual Fasken lawyer.
 News Release: Ontario Tightening Rules Around Mass Layoffs.
 Legislative Assembly of Ontario, Bill 79, Working for Workers Act, 2023.
 See our previous bulletins on the Working for Workers Act, 2021: “An Update on Ontario’s Bill 27: Key Amendments for Employers” and “Ontario Proposing Significant New Employment Law Changes in Bill 27”).
 See our previous bulletin on the Working for Workers Act, 2022.
 News Release: Working for Workers Act, 2023.