The Government of Ontario has introduced a new law that seeks to amend a series of provincial employment laws, promising to give employees within the province new and novel legal rights.
The legislation, called Bill 27: Working for Workers Act, 2021 includes proposed amendments to various pieces of employment-related legislation as we discussbelow. The proposed changes stem from recommendations made by experts on the Ontario Workforce Recovery Advisory Committee.
If Bill 27 is passed, amendments to the Employment Standards Act, 2000 will include the following:
Employers will be prohibited from entering into non-compete agreements with their employees. Non-compete agreements are intended to prevent employees from pursuing other work opportunities that are in competition with their previous employer's business after the termination of employment (e.g., 12 months following the end of employment). Though not overly common in the Roofing industry, non-competes have become more ubiquitous in recent years. The amendments will not prohibit: (1) an employer from prohibiting an employee from competing with the employer's business during employment; or (2) the use of a non-compete agreement tied to the sale of a business.
The amendments will also not prohibit an employer from protecting their confidential information, intellectual property and client relationships through the use of narrower clauses, including non-solicitation clauses prohibiting the solicitation of employees and customers.
As it is currently drafted, the prohibition on non-competes appears to be effective as of October 25, 2021 and does not affect non-competes already in place.
Disconnect From Work Policy
Employers with 25 or more employees (as of January 1 each year) will be required to develop a “disconnecting from work” policy by March 1 of that year. This policy will relate to the practice of not engaging in work-related communication such as telephone calls or emails, past a certain hour of the day, in order to allow the employee to be free from the performance of work. The details on the information to be included in the policy will be included in a Regulation that has not yet been released.
The policy will be required to be in written form and a copy of the policy will need to be provided to all employees within 30 days of the preparation of the policy. An employer will also be required to retain a copy of every written policy on disconnecting from the workplace for three years after the policy ceases to be in effect. It is likely there will be several exemptions to this policy for certain industries, including construction.
Temporary help agencies and recruiters will be prohibited from acting as such without first procuring a license from the Director of Employment Standards. The amendments will also prohibit persons or companies from using the services of an unlicensed agency or recruiter.
Licenses will have to be renewed yearly and will be non-transferrable. A public database that lists all active, revoked or suspended licenses will also be available.
The amendments also include a prohibition against any possible act of reprisal by a recruiter against an employee due to an employee complying with the Employment Standards Act, 2000 or asking that a recruiter do the same.
The government's press release indicates that this portion of the Bill may not come into effect until 2024.
The proposed amendments to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997 include the following:
- Surpluses: The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) will be permitted to distribute surpluses in its insurance fund among Schedule 1 employers in order to alleviate some of the impacts of COVID-19.
- Streamlining Services: WSIB will be permitted to work with entities like the Canada Revenue Agency in order to streamline remittances for businesses. This will allow businesses to have a more efficient way to submit premiums and payroll deductions.
A notable amendment as pertaining to the construction industry regards internationally trained professionals. Regulated professions will be prohibited from including a “Canadian experience” requirement as a qualification for an internationally trained professional to obtain a license to practice in the profession. Certain exemptions to this prohibition are included for public health and safety reasons.
Many employers have historically included non-competition provisions in their standard employment agreements in an effort to protect their business, understanding that given case law there was a risk a court might not enforce the non-compete. Employers should review their template employment agreements to consider whether they will continue to use non-compete clauses. Although Bill 27 has not passed and therefore is not yet the law, it is likely to pass given the majority government in Ontario and the effective date for the prohibition on entering non-compete agreements would then be October 25, 2021. In addition, employers may want to review and update their non-solicitation provisions to ensure they are likely to be enforceable and may provide some protection in the absence of a non-compete.
Employers with 25 or more employees may wish to begin considering what any “Disconnect From Work” Policy could look like for their organizations. Some employers already have policies about after-hours communication, but for those that do not, if Bill 27 passes, it may require a cultural shift in the organization's approach to after-hours work and early consideration by management will make the transition smoother.
Written by Jeremy Power, a lawyer in our Toronto Office