Ontario’s Employment Laws: Several Significant Changes Coming Under Bill 27, the Working for Workers Act, 2021

Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C.

On November 30, 2021, the Government of Ontario passed Bill 27, the Working for Workers Act, 2021. Bill 27 amends a number of statutes, including the Employment Standards Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

According to the government, this legislation achieves a number of goals, including improving employees’ work-life balance, prohibiting noncompete agreements to increase competition in business and labour markets, facilitating the registration of internationally trained professionals, and implementing a licensing regime for temporary help agencies and recruiters.

Amendments to the Employment Standards Act, 2000

Right to Disconnect from Work

The Working for Workers Act, 2021requires that employers with 25 or more employees at the beginning of the year implement a written “disconnect from work” policy regarding disconnecting from work during nonworking hours. Under the act, the term “disconnecting from work” is defined as “engaging in work-related communications, including emails, telephone calls, video calls or the sending or reviewing of other messages, so as to be free from the performance of work.” Once an employer prepares or amends a policy, employers will have 30 days to share copies of this policy with employees. Employers must also provide new employees this policy within 30 days of being hired.

Once the act receives Royal Assent, employers will have six months from that date to develop their written policies. Following this initial year, employers will have to prepare their policies by no later than March 1 of each year.

The regulations that will be promulgated to establish the content of the policy have not yet been published. As such, it is not yet known what specific steps employers must take to prohibit after-hours work and whether they will be restricted in terms of which employees may or may not be permitted or required to perform after-hours work, in addition to other unsettled issues.

Prohibition of Noncompete Agreements

The act prohibits employers from including noncompete clauses in any agreement they form with an employee. If this provision is violated, the noncompete agreement will be void.

There are two exceptions to this rule.

  1. Employees in an executive role are excepted from this provision. An “executive” is an employee who holds the office of a chief executive position, including that of president, chief executive officer, and chief administrative officer.
  2. There is also an exception when there has been “a sale of a business or part of a business” (which includes a lease). If the purchaser and seller enter into a noncompete agreement, and the seller becomes an employee of the purchaser immediately after the sale, this prohibition will not apply.

Once Royal Assent is received, the noncompete prohibition is deemed to come into force on October 25, 2021.

With the passing the act, Ontario has become the first province to require “disconnect from work” policies and to prohibit noncompete agreements outright.

Licensing Requirements for Temporary Help Agencies

The act specifies that temporary help agencies and recruiters must now apply for a license. Anyone wishing to engage with a temporary help agency or recruiter must ensure that they are licensed, as knowingly doing business with an unlicensed agency or recruiter is prohibited under the act.

Temporary help agencies or recruiters may be refused a license and may have their licenses revoked or suspended for a number of reasons, including:

  • using recruiters that charge fees to foreign nationals;
  • providing “false or misleading information in an application”; and
  • situation in which the director of Employment Standards has reasonable grounds to believe that “the applicant will not carry on business with honesty and integrity and in accordance with the law.”

If applicants dispute the refusal, revocation, or suspension of their licenses, they can seek a review at the Ontario Labour Relations Board.

These amendments will come into force on a day to be proclaimed by the lieutenant governor.

Amendments to the Employment Protection for Foreign Nationals Act, 2009

Prohibition on the Collection of Recruitment Fees

To protect foreign nationals from predatory recruitment practices, the act prohibits employers and recruiters from knowingly using the services of recruiters that charge foreign nationals for their services.

A recruiter that charges a fee, and an employer or recruiter that violates this prohibition will be liable for repaying the fees charged to the foreign national.

These amendments will come into force on the day the Working for Workers Act, 2021 receives Royal Assent.

Amendments to the Fair Access to Regulated Professions And Compulsory Trades Act, 2006

Facilitating the Registration of Internationally Trained Professionals

To facilitate the registration of internationally trained professionals, the act specifies that Canadian experience will not be a qualification for registration in a regulated profession. Regulated professions may apply to be exempted from this rule “for the purposes of public health and safety in accordance with the regulations.” Regulated professions will also be required to develop accelerated registration processes to aid with emergency preparedness.

The fairness commissioner will also evaluate language proficiency requirements to ensure that any French or English testing does not contravene the regulations.

These amendments will come into force on the day the act receives Royal Assent.

Amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety Act

Mandating Washroom Access for Delivery Persons

Under the act, a new requirement is created that if a person requests washroom access in the course of delivering or picking up a package from a business. Business covered by the act must allow use of their washrooms.

Businesses will be exempt from this requirement if:

  • Sharing the washroom is unreasonable or impractical because of health and safety reasons;
  • The context makes sharing the washroom unreasonable or impractical; or
  • The delivery person would have to enter a dwelling to use the washroom.

These amendments will come into force on a day to be proclaimed by the lieutenant governor.

Amendments to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997

Distribution of Surplus Insurance Fund

The act includes a provision that specifies that if there is a surplus in the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board’s insurance fund, this surplus may be distributed among eligible employers. The insurance board will have discretion to determine the timing and the amounts to be granted to eligible employers, based on factors such as adherence to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act. Based on these factors, the insurance board will also be empowered to exclude any eligible employers from the distribution of surplus funds. Employers will not be able to appeal the funding decisions made by the insurance board in this respect.

These amendments will come into force on a day to be proclaimed by the lieutenant governor.

Amendments to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Act

Increasing Information Gathering in Relation to “agriculture, food or rural affairs”

Under the act, the minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs is granted the authority to “collect information, including personal information, directly or indirectly” related to “agriculture, food or rural affairs” for the purposes of emergency response and public health. Personal information will not be collected, used, or disclosed in cases where other sources of information are available to fulfil the same purpose.

These amendments will come into force on the day the act receives Royal Assent.

Next Steps

Bill 27 passed its third reading on November 30, 2021. At the time of publication of this article, the legislation has not received Royal Assent, but it likely will shortly. Once Royal Assent is received, some amendments come into force immediately, while others follow different timelines. Employers may want to begin reviewing the new legislation, noting any important dates and features relevant to their organizations. In addition, employers may want to review their policies, practices, and contracts to ensure compliance.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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