Employment Law Changes for Workers Expected In 2017
By Mark Swartz
Laws that affect Canadian employees are seldom carved in stone. Statutes may change when new governments take power. Fresh court decisions can alter standards overnight.
What’s on the horizon for 2017? Some important matters that may affect you directly. They involve privacy protection, minimum wages, equal pay, the workplace impact of legalizing marijuana, and safeguards for vulnerable workers in precarious jobs.
Several key issues will be dealt with at the federal level, applying to the whole country. Others are being adjudicated in one province or another (where precedents can influence other regions). Watch for the following concerns to be addressed.
Federal Level Decisions
Minimum Wage vs. Living Wage
A debate is raging about how much the minimum wage should be. By late 2017 the average figure in Canada will be about $11.43 per hour. A number of citizens groups are agitating for $15 per hour, which they refer to as a living wage. Many businesses are pushing back because of the impact this might have on their bottom line. Expect a lively public discussion as this issue gains more attention.
Legalized Marijuana And Workplace Safety
The federal government is aiming to make pot legal by the end of 2017. That raises health and safety issues for employees. Unlike arriving at work with alcohol on your breath, there is no reliable way yet to confirm being high. There’ll be much buzz about drug testing and liability problems.
Privacy Protections For Employee Data
A recent non-workplace court decision has implications for employees. Releasing someone’s personal information that was gleaned on the job can bring stiff penalties, if done so without permission. A new tort called “public disclosure of private facts” applies. So think twice about distributing video files, recordings, or written material that the affected party might deem confidential.
No “Without Cause Dismissal” For Federal, Non-Union Workers
Federal employees represent about five per cent of our country’s workforce. The Supreme Court of Canada found that, in contrast to the private sector, federally regulated employers cannot terminate their staff without legal cause simply by providing notice. Canada Labour Code wording gives those workers the right to reinstatement when they were not dismissed for cause or due to a lack of work.
Pay Equity At The Forefront
In an important decision issued October 2016, the Québec Court of Appeal declared several sections of the Pay Equity Act unconstitutional. An appeal has been filed by the province’s Attorney General. Also the federal government says it will compel employers subject to its labour relations regime to comply with pay equity measures. The pay gap between men and women might close further.
Protecting Vulnerable Workers
In 2016 the Ontario Ministry of Labour released its Changing Workplaces Review interim report. It focused on the need for legislative reform to protect "vulnerable workers in precarious jobs".
The provincial government is considering the most significant changes to its employment laws in more than 20 years. On the table are such items as adding mandatory sick pay, shifting the threshold for overtime, boosting minimum paid vacation, making advance scheduling obligatory, and lessening barriers to join a union.
More Leeway To Collect Bonuses After Being Wrongfully Dismissed
Courts in both Alberta and Ontario overrode decided law that required dismissed employees to be actively employed to recover bonuses and long-term incentive plans (when these were not payable until after the dismissal, but during the period of notice). Prior to this employers were reducing the scope of what could be recovered in wrongful dismissal actions.
Forced To Wear High Heels No More?
Discriminatory dress codes have been subject to scrutiny lately. One example: new legal rights are evolving that prohibit being forced to wear sexy clothes at work. Soon employers may not be able to insist that female staff wear high heels, if support continues for a B.C. private member’s bill to that effect.
For More On Employee Rights
Knowing your Canadian employment rights can prevent you from being manipulated. Check out all of Monster.ca’s articles about your workplace legal entitlements.