Navigating Ontario's Bill 148 as changes begin to take shape

The Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, also known as Bill 148, was announced last year, proposing significant changes to the Employment Standards Act – touching on a number of things such as minimum wage, vacation, leaves of absence, scheduling and more. Now, well into 2018, many of these changes are in force with more coming down the pipeline – and if you’re finding these changes difficult to navigate – you aren’t alone.

Understanding all of the updates that are already set in place, and those that are scheduled to be in force by 2019 is important to ensure your company is compliant with the legislation but also that you are providing the accurate leave allotment and pay to your employees.

One thing that employers are noting, the extension of many of the statutory leave periods will have a significant impact on workplaces as employees begin to take advantage of these extended absences.

To help you navigate the Bill 148 map we’ve summarized a few of the changes below.

The Rundown on Bill 148 changes

Minimum wage:

Potentially the most discussed change of Bill 148 is the increase to minimum wage, which increased from $11.60 to $14 at the beginning of this year and will be raised to $15 on January 1, 2019. In total, a 30 per cent increase over 15 months is significant when at the average salary budget increase it would have taken roughly nine years to reach a 30 per cent increase

Considerations: What about the employees who already earn around $15? Organizations are considering how they might want to pay those who are near minimum wage and this ultimately comes down to their compensation philosophy, historical practice, compression issues and the affordability of it all. In addition, many employers had large increases to their salary budgets and as a result, reviewed other areas of their expenses that may help offset the increased pay.

LEAVES of ABSENCE:

PERSONAL EMERGENCY LEAVE:

All employers are now required to provide 10 days of personal emergency leave (PEL), two of those days provided as paid leave. Previously, only employers with more than 50 employees were required to provide up to 10 PEL days and it was all unpaid.

Considerations: Employers should ensure they are actively monitoring PEL days and that the required payments are made.

PREGNANCY LEAVE:

Pregnancy leave remains at 17 weeks from the day the leave begins, however now the benefit is available for 12 weeks to employees who suffer a stillbirth or miscarriage.

Considerations: employers are now obligated to provide leave and reinstate employees at the end of this leave. How will this change scheduling or planning for the year?infographic click

PARENTAL LEAVE:

To reflect the recent changes to federal Employment Insurance (EI), where parents may elect to collect EI over 18-months rather than 12, employees are entitled to 61 weeks of leave if they took pregnancy leave and 63 if not.

Considerations: if you have a top up policy for parental leave, what does your policy look like? You might want to revisit your policy wording so that if employees do decide to take 18-months rather than 12 the top up value remains the same aggregate value.

FAMILY MEDICAL LEAVE:

If an employee has a family member who becomes ill and has a significant risk of passing away within the next 26 weeks they are entitled to 28 weeks of leave, a significant increase from eight weeks provided before.

Considerations: in addition to the extended leave for an employee – this circumstance can have an incredible effect on an employee. Consider what support they may need when they return to work, do you offer an EAP that might help them at this time?

CRITICAL ILLNESS LEAVE:

In addition to the 37 weeks leave employees are provided if their child falls critically-ill, they are now also entitled to 17 weeks of leave to provide care for a critically-ill family member as well.

Considerations: as with family medical leave, in a critical illness leave the leave is  just a small portion of a situation of this nature and you might want to consider how else you can support an employee at this time to ensure they are focusing on their own mental health during what is likely a difficult time.

Vacation:

Vacation leave has been increased to three weeks or 6 % vacation pay for employees with five or more years of employment within the same company, up from two weeks and 4% vacation pay.

Considerations: make sure your policy outlines what happens to vacation days that roll over and encourage all employees to take their minimum vacation entitlement within the given year. Vacation carry over is only required for the ESA minimum vacation requirement. A ‘use it or lose it’ policy can be applied to anything over and above the minimum. Your policy should clearly state the intent of any carry-over provisions.

EQUAL PAY FOR EQUAL WORK:

In April of this year the new equal pay for equal work provisions commenced entitling all part-time, temporary and seasonal workers to be paid the same rate as full-time employees if their work is ‘substantially’ the same, requiring the same skill, effort and responsibility.

Considerations: The financial benefit of hiring employees on a part-time, temporary or seasonal basis is reduced for employers because of this change. A discrepancy in pay will be permitted if the difference is due to a seniority or merit system or a system that measures earnings by quantity or quality of production – but keep in mind that you must be able to defend your pay decision.

scheduling:

A new ‘three-hour rule’ began earlier this year. When an employee who regularly works more than three hours a day is required to work for less than three hours they must be paid for three hours. Also, if a shift is cancelled within 48 hours employees are still entitled to be paid for three hours.

Considerations: if lightning, power failure, storms or other causes out of employer control prevent the employee from working or it’s a weather-related reason and the nature of the employee’s work depends on weather this rule doesn’t apply.

For information on other legislative guidelines within Canada download Accompass’s  Reference Guide to Canadian Benefits now.