Employment Standards Lawyers

Most workers in Ontario are covered by the Employment Standards Act. Otherwise, workers employed in federally regulated industries such as banking, telecommunications and airlines are covered by the Canada Labour Code. Both the Employment Standards Act and the Canada Labour Code enforce minimum employment laws regarding hourly wages, hours of work, public holidays and termination pay / severance, and leaves of absence, among others.

Employment standards apply differently to different workers. Employment standards do not apply to independent contractors, some employment standards do not apply to interns (i.e. minimum wages), and most employment standards do not apply to professionals and managers (i.e. overtime). In this regard, employment standards, as minimums, are there primarily to protect the vulnerable in low wage industries.

As employment standards are just a minimum, it is important to caution employers that employees usually have significantly more recourse to sue for money through the courts rather than make a employment standards complaint to the applicable Ministry of Labour. For example, the difference between a severance claim at the courts and the Ministry of Labour can be 96 weeks’ pay. Moreover, employees are only allowed to use a single avenue of recourse – employees cannot make a complaint to the Ministry of Labour and sue, and vice versa.

ESA Complaint Process

Employees with very limited claims against their employer (less than $10,000) usually file a claim with an Employment Standards Officer at the Ontario Ministry of Labour. It is free and individuals do not need a lawyer.

The Ministry of Labour investigates complaints of unpaid wages, overtime and vacation pay, pay equity, leaves of absence (i.e. maternity leave), and rights upon termination, among others. After the Ministry has completed a complaint, it can order the employer to pay the employee (called an Order to Pay).

The Ministry of Labour, however, is extremely limited in the remedies it can award an employee. Unlike the courts, the Ministry cannot hear a wrongful dismissal case and it cannot order common law damages. For example, the Ministry can only order an employer to provide an employee up to $10,000 in wages. Conversely, the courts can order an employer to provide an employee 24 months or more of full compensation.

An employer with concerns regarding a Ministry of Labour complaint should contact an employment lawyer before responding to a claim.

In addition, Dutton Employment Law helps employers appeal fines or Orders to Pay made by an Employment Standards Officer at the Ontario Labour Relations Board.