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Ontario Ministry of Labour blitz of the retail industry – Are you ESA compliant?

The Ontario Ministry of Labour (the “Ministry”) has announced a blitz of the retail industry for compliance with the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (the “ESA”). The blitz will run from October through to December 2013.

The Ministry announced last month that it will be enhancing its enforcement efforts through hiring additional Employment Standards Officers and staff. It has made an initial $3 million investment to the initiative. The goal of the Ministry inspections is to encourage employers to comply with the ESA requirements before serious violations arise.

The Ministry blitz will be focusing on gas stations, retail chains, convenience store franchises/chains, as well as other retailers like grocers.

Employment Standards Officers will be visiting workplaces to ensure compliance with ESA standards including:

  • Providing wage statements to employees,
  • Ensuring no unauthorized deductions are made from wages,
  • Maintaining proper record keeping,
  • Complying with the hours of work provisions,
  • Providing eating periods,
  • Providing overtime pay,
  • Meeting minimum wage requirements,
  • Providing public holidays,
  • Providing vacation pay, and
  • Posting of the Ministry ESA poster in the workplace.

In cases of non-compliance, Employment Standards Officers have a variety of powers, including issuing compliance orders, orders to pay wages or Notices of Offence tickets.

Employers should take compliance orders seriously. Employers may recall the decision of the Ontario Court of Justice from last year where a director of six companies was sentenced to 90 days in jail for failing to comply with an order to pay wages. Those orders emanated from employee complaints to the Ministry. The director had ignored 113 orders to pay wages. In addition to the jail sentence, he was ordered to pay $280,000 in wages owing to employees. Although this was an extreme case, it is a caution to employers.

Many employers are surprised to hear that they are non- compliant with the ESA. We encourage all employers to carefully review their employment policies and practices to ensure they meet the ESA minimum requirements. The Ministry’s publication “Complying with the Employment Standards Act (ESA): A Workbook for Employers” is a useful tool for employers to help better understand the ESA requirements. Employers should consider completing this workbook for the purpose of consulting with legal counsel on their compliance obligations in order to maintain privilege.

This blog was originally published on First Reference Talks, October 8, 2013.

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