Employment: Frequently Asked Questions

If you work in the Province of Ontario and the company falls under its jurisdiction, you may be covered under the Employment Standards Act, 2000. The Act defines the minimum standards an employer is required to comply with. If the company does not do so, you can file a claim on line without cost against the company with the Ministry of Labour. You are protected under the Act, if you are exercising your rights under it.  
 
It has been my experience that many employees are unaware of their rights and believe they can only enforce them if they quit or they may be reluctant to create an unpleasant situation by exercising their rights during their employment with the company. It is not necessary to quit to enforce these standards. You can file a claim with the Ministry of Labour without having to identify yourself. The Ministry is obligated not to disclose your identity without your expressed permission. Most of the standards can be investigated in such a fashion. However, some standards require the Ministry to identify you, for example, standards like termination pay. You need not be unduly concerned because you no longer work for the company and the reasons for your termination may be very specific and only applicable to you. Since you are not an employee of the company, the employer cannot further penalise you. 
 
Does the Act require the employer to increase employee’s wages periodically?
 
No, there is no such requirement under the said Act. However, the employer is required to pay the minimum wage applicable at the time. From time to time, the minimum wage may be revised.
 
Following is the minimum wage for different jobs as well as the scheduled increases:
 
Minimum Wage           Feb. 1        Mar. 31        Mar. 31        Mar. 31        Mar. 31       
Rate                               2006          2007              2008             2009              2010
 
General Minimum       $7.75/h       $8.00/h         $8.75/h         $9.50/h          $10.25/h
Wage
 
Student Minimum        $7.25/h        $7.50/h         $8.20/h         $8.90/h          $9.60/h
Wage
 
Liquor Servers               $6.75/h        $6.95/h          $7.60/h         $8.25/h        $8.90/h
Minimum Wage
 
Home workers                 $8.53/h        $8.80/h         $9.63/h       $10.45/h     $11.28/h                                   
Wage
 
 
Does the Act entitle an employee to sick leave and bereavement leave?
 
The Act does not require the employer to pay for the day you may take as a sick leave or a bereavement leave. The employer is required to pay for the hours you work and not for the hours you don’t work. However, the employer may have a greater benefit and pay for the days taken as a sick leave or bereavement leave.
 
If you work for a company that employs regularly more than 50 employees, the Act requires the employer to give you personal emergency leave under some situations. Again the employer does not have to pay for these days but must keep your job while you are on such a leave. You can take up to a maximum of 10 days in a year for personal emergency leave. It can be taken for yourself or close relatives as defined in the Act.
 
The Act also entitles an employee to take unpaid family medical leave in order to take care of a relative, it too is job protected. You can take up to 8 weeks in a 26-week period.
 
Even though, you are entitled to certain leaves under the Act, it does not require the employer to pay you while you are on such leaves, however, the employer must protect your job. In other words, you get paid if you work and don’t if you don’t work. However, your job is protected.
 
Can the employer ask for a doctor’s note if you take a sick leave?
 
The employer is entitled to ask for reasonable evidence that the employee has taken the time off for the purpose it claimed. 
 
Can the employer terminate an employee while on sick leave?
 
Since there is no requirement under the Act to give you sick leave, it can terminate the employment of an employee for any reason, however, by doing so, it will have to comply with the provision of termination and possibly severance pay. But if the day taken was a personal emergency leave, the employer is not permitted to terminate the employment of an employee and if it does, it becomes a case of reprisal. Under reprisal, the employer may be asked to reinstate the employee or to provide a reasonable compensation for violating the Act.   
 
Are employees able to take time off for a doctor’s appointment?
 
There is no provision for time off under the Act for doctor’s appointment. However, if it is an appointment because of personal emergency leave, the job is protected and the employer cannot take any action against an employee for exercising his/her rights.
 
Does the employee have to give notice to employer when quitting?
 
Generally speaking, there is no requirement under the Act, but if you do, the employer may or may not accept such a notice. However, if the employer does not accept, it is still required to comply with the Act. In some situations, such as, pregnancy and parental leave, an employee is required to give notice.
 
Can the employee sue the employer for wrongful dismissal as well as file a claim for termination pay and severance pay?
 
The employee must choose one or the other but not both. The Act can only recover at the most $10,000.00. If your claim exceeds $10,000.00 for termination and severance pay, you should seek legal advice and weigh your options accordingly.
 
Are the employees entitled to coffee breaks?
 
The Act requires the employer to give 30 minutes break after every 5 hours of work. The employer does not have to pay for the break and the employee is free to leave the workplace during the break. However, if the employee and the employer agree, the 30 minutes break can be split into two 15 minutes coffee breaks. But, if the employer provides additional break and the employee is required to stay at the workplace, it must be paid at least minimum wage.
 
Does the employer have to provide a ride home if he/she works late?
 
The Act does not require an employer to provide ride home if the employee works late. However, the employer may agree to do so as part of employment contract.
 
Can the employer schedule an employee to work only late night shift?
 
There is no restriction on the employer to schedule an employee as it sees fit. The only restriction is that the employee must be given at least 11 hours off between shifts and a 30 minutes break after each 5 hours of work.
 
Does the employer have to pay more if the employee works on Sunday or late at night?
 
No. The Act does not require the employer to pay different rates on different days or for night shift. However, the employee may negotiate such provision as part of the employment contract.
 
What are the implications if Employee and Employer agree to an employment contract that provides more than the minimum standards?
 
If the contract of employment calls for greater benefits, the greater benefits are enforced.
 
Can the employee agree to work under a contract that does not comply with the Act?
 
The Act does not recognise such a contract of employment and any agreement between the employer and employee is null and void. These are minimum standards and the parties are not allowed to opt out of these minimum standards. They can enhance these standards but not diminish them.
 
Can the employer enforce dress codes?
 
Yes, the employer can set dress codes at the work place including uniform and other clothing requirements. The employer may deduct cost of the uniform or other clothing from wages if the employee agrees to it in writing. Without written authorization, an employer is not permitted to make any deductions other than statutory deductions from wages.
 
The dress code cannot violate Ontario Human Rights Code or the rules under Occupational Health and Safety Act.
 
Does the employer have to provide discount on its products to employees?
 
There is no provision under the Act to provide discounts to employees. It is up to the discretion of the employer to provide such discounts and the value of such discounts provided.
 
Does the employer have to provide record of employment for employment insurance purposes?
 
The employment insurance and record of employment falls under federal jurisdiction, the employee should contact Human Resources Department for the federal government to ensure its compliance.
 
What are the rules about sexual harassment and discrimination?
 
These are covered under the Ontario Human Rights code; please contact their office to ensure compliance with the code.
 
Are pensions covered under the Act?
 
The Act does not require the employer to provide such benefits but if it provides these benefits, they are enforced as required.
 
This information is provided for guidance only and should not be interpreted as a legal advice.
 
This article is provided by Rajinder K. Batra, who is a retired Employment Standards Officer with the Ministry of Labour with 15 years experience in these matters.
 
If you have any questions regarding your employment, please contact the writer by e-mail at esaconsulting@hotmail.com or if you don’t have access to e-mail; you can fax your question at (905) 331-1805.
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