2016 Legislative Changes in Employment Law

The 2016 budget season brings changes to the law of work. Both the Ontario and the Canadian Federal Governments have released their annual budgets, which will mean many debates around the cabinet and dinner table with plenty of changes in store for both employers and employees. Both budgets reflect trends that we have seen in civil courts and human rights tribunals across the country: greater protections for precarious workers and increased attention to accommodating family status obligations.

While much of the coverage of the 2016 Federal Budget focused on the sky-high deficits, there were many changes announced that will impact Canadian workplaces, from amendments to Employment Insurance eligibility rules to new initiatives for flexible work arrangements.

The 2016 Ontario Budget also announced changes that will impact both employers and employees. It included an announcement about a government study of changes to the Employment Standards Act, 2000 and the Labour Relations Act, 1995 as well as a targeted plan to reduce the gender pay gap.

Employment Insurance Eligibility Changes

Employment Insurance is designed to be a support for Canadians when they need it most, to provide care for your family, to recover from an illness or when you’ve been terminated through no fault of your own.

The Canadian Government is making it easier for those applying for Employment Insurance. The waiting period for Employment Insurance benefits will be reduced from two weeks to one week. Starting in July of 2016, new entrants into the workforces and re-entrants in the workforce will be subject to the same requirements as all other applicants. This will be particularly helpful for young workers facing precarious employment who require Employment Insurance benefits.

There are a number of measures also targeted to improving the quality of service for Employment Insurance applicants. These include simplifying the job search requirements and enhancing access to call centres to reduce waiting times for applicants who need to submit or check the status of their claims.

New Initiatives for Flexible Work Arrangements

In the 2016 Federal Budget, the Canadian Government recognized that many Canadians struggle with eldercare, childcare and other responsibilities. This is following important human rights tribunal decisions that recognize these obligations as part of an individual’s family status, a protected ground under both the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act. Over the last few years, human rights tribunals across the country have released decisions that require employers to accommodate workers with childcare and eldercare responsibilities.

As part of this recognition, the Canadian Government has now undertaken in Budget 2016 to explore new ways to ensure that federally regulated employees are better able to: “manage the demands of paid work and their personal and family responsibilities outside of work”.

While many of the details of this proposal have yet to be fleshed out, during the last federal election, the Liberals promised a variety of proposals on this topic. Some of the more prominent proposals include extending family leave up to 18 months and amending the Canada Labour Code to protect workers who request flexible work times or the flexibility to work from home from reprisal by their employers.

Upcoming Overhaul of the ESA and OLRA

The Ontario budget is opaque on the upcoming changes to two of the most important pieces of legislation for workers the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (the ESA) and the Labour Relations Act, 1995 (the OLRA), but Budget 2016 signals that serious changes are in the works.

As we have seen in recent civil court cases, many Ontario employees are being categorized as contractors, sometimes so that employers can avoid their legal obligations to those employees. While the courts have found ways to protect those workers, the Ontario Government would like to go further to ensure that labour and employment laws reflect the realities of the modern workplace to provide security to workers, while also providing businesses the support they need.

Staring in 2015, the government initiated the Changing Workplaces Review and appointed two Special Advisers to lead the consultations on Ontario’s labour and employment laws, including the OLRA and ESA. As part of this review there are public consultations and commissioned research ongoing and it is expected that the final report and recommendations will be released this summer.

Steps Towards Reducing the Gender Pay Gap

The 2016 Ontario Budget also foreshadows changes coming to the way the Ontario Government addresses the Gender Pay Gap. The Gender Pay Gap refers to a trend found in studies that show women on average make less than men for comparable work. In Canada, this gap is estimated to cost working women an average of $8,000 per year compared to their male counterparts.

Last year, the Ontario Government established the Gender Wage Gap Steering Committee to begin addressing the factors that contribute to Ontario’s gender wage gap. The committee is anticipated to make recommendations in less than two months that will help shape the implementation of the Province’s Gender Wage Gap Strategy.

For Employees

If you have been terminated and have questions about how these legislative changes will impact your potential claim against your employer, you should speak with an experienced employment lawyer. Monkhouse Law has helped hundreds of employees with their wrongful dismissal claims, contact us today for a free phone consultation.

For Employers

If you are concerned about how these changes will impact your workplace, you should contact a trusted employment lawyer. Monkhouse Law has experience assisting employers in developing policies that are both compliant with legislation and flexible for your workplace needs. Contact us today for a free phone consultation.

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