Ontario’s Ministry of Labour released a report today that makes 173 recommendations on provincial workplace standards, including employees’ entitlements to benefits.
The report suggests numerous changes that would affect employers, says Craig Rix, a partner and employment lawyer at Hicks Morley Hamilton Stewart Storie LLP in Toronto. “Employers will have to start thinking about how they can get ready,” says Rix.
Two government-commissioned labour law experts drafted the report, the Changing Workplaces Review, after consulting with employees, unions and employers for two years on a wide range of work-related issues.
One of the report’s major recommendations is to make seven days of unpaid personal emergency leave available to all employees each year, regardless of employer size.
The report noted the need to include domestic violence as a reason for leave and recommended separating bereavement leave as an entitlement from personal emergency leave. Employees should receive up to three days of unpaid bereavement leave for each family member covered by the personal emergency leave provisions, according to the report.
As well, it noted that employers requesting doctor’s notes for personal emergency leaves due to illness should pay for the cost rather than the employee and it suggested extending family medical leave to 26 weeks in a 52-week period from eight weeks in a 26-week period.
While the report acknowledged the importance of paid sick leave, it said extending personal emergency leave to all employees is a more urgent priority. It recommended increasing paid vacation time from two to three weeks for employees who have been with their employer for five years or more.
Small companies will see an impact from expanding the entitlement to personal emergency leave, says Plamen Petkov, vice-president of Ontario at the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses. On average, CFIB members employ 10 to 12 workers, notes Petkov, and a recent survey of members showed 80 to 85 per cent already try to accommodate employees who need time off for personal situations.
“It’s already happening for the vast majority,” says Petkov. But the change would be significant because it will mandate the accommodation, he noted.
The report also proposed reforms to collective bargaining, workplace safety and inspection practices and wage conditions for part-time, casual, temporary, contract and seasonal employees.
It also highlighted the circumstances of workers who don’t receive benefits by calling on the government to explore a minimum standard for insured health benefits for all employees, including those who are self-employed or work for small employers. In addition, it suggested the Ontario government work with the federal government to review how the private and public pension systems affect low-earning Ontarians.
“During hearings . . . we heard that the combination of low income, lack of control over scheduling, lack of benefits such as pensions and health care, personal emergency leave or sick leave, all together or in various combinations, creates a great deal of uncertainty, anxiety and stress, which undermines the quality of life and the physical well-being of a wide swath of workers in our society,” the report noted.
“We found that there is no doubt that there are many legitimate social and economic concerns regarding vulnerable employees in precarious employment. The recommended changes seek, among other things, to improve conditions for those who find themselves in these circumstances.”
The report concluded by recommending that Ontario create a business forum of labour leaders, employee advocates and senior government officials with an independent chair facilitator.
“The forum would discuss the impact of changes in the workplace and the economy from the perspective of the stakeholders and attempt to achieve consensus on appropriate measures that could be taken by government and by the stakeholders,” the report says. “The forum would also monitor, support and make recommendations to improve any changes implemented by government as a result of this review.”