Jobs: Rules at WORK

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by Gordon Crann and Alan Redway, Q.C.

Gordon Crann and Alan Redway, Q.C. are lawyers with Redway & Butler LLP, Barristers & Solicitors. They provide legal advice and assistance in all areas of the law, except criminal law. Alan is a former Federal Housing Minister, MP for Don Valley East and former Mayor of East York. Gordon is a former East York Councillor.

Many newcomers find the rules at work in Canada confusing. In part, this is due to federal laws that apply to a few industries, like banks, airports and airlines, while provincial laws cover most workplaces. In general, similar workplace rules exist both provincially and federally across Canada.

As a brief and simple explanation, this article will focus on the rules at work in Ontario as an example of the types of workplace rules throughout Canada.

  • What Personal Information Can My Employer Collect?
  • When starting a job, new employees are asked to provide the employer with personal information, such as their full name, address and Social Insurance Number (SIN).

An employer is legally required to collect these so that they can send certain employment information to the Canada Revenue Agency. This includes amounts relating to the employee’s income tax, Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and Employment Insurance (EI) deductions. There are also required to provide the employee a T4 form every February to use in preparing his or her annual income tax package.

The federal Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act allows an employer to provide such personal information, without the knowledge or consent of the employee, if the disclosure is made to a government body that has identified its authority, and if it is for the purpose of administering any Canadian law.

It is illegal, under the Ontario Human Rights Code, for employers to collect information about an employee’s race, ethnic origin, colour or religion. An exception is made for employers with employment equity programs designed to support people whose group have faced discrimination in the past.

Rules About Pay & Hours of Work

Rules about hours and wages differ from province to province. (You can find hours and wages for each province by following the Employment Standard’s links in the Government Directories at Settlement Roadmap.) Ontario’s Employment Standards Act sets a number of rules about pay and hours of work. For example, it sets the general minimum wage in Ontario (as of March 31, 2010) as being $10.25 per hour. There are different minimum wage rates set for, students ($8.90 per hour), liquor servers ($8.25 per hour) and people doing paid work in their home for an employer ($11.28 per hour) among others. For most employees in Ontario, the maximum number of work hours that can be required is:

  • eight hours a day or if the employer has established a regular workday longer than eight hours, then the number of hours in that day; and
  • 48 hours a week. (In exceptional circumstances, such as emergencies, employees can be required to work more than the limited number of hours in the Employment Standards Act.)

In addition, an employee must receive:

  • at least 11 consecutive hours free from performing work each day;
  • at least eight hours off work between shifts;
  • at least 24 hours off work in each work week or at least 48 consecutive hours off work in every period of two consecutive work weeks; and
  • an employee must not work more than five consecutive hours without getting a 30-minute eating period from work.

For most employees, overtime pay is earned after they have worked 44 hours in a work week. Each hour worked after 44 hours must be paid at 1 1/2 times the employee’s regular rate of pay.

Rules About Vacation & Leaves

Ontario’s Employment Standards Act also sets a number of rules about vacation and leaves for sickness, death of a relative, pregnancy and parenting for newborn children.

Most employees earn two weeks of vacation with pay after each 12 months of employment in addition to public holidays. Vacation pay must be at least four percent of the total or “gross” wages earned in the 12-month period.

Employers are required to schedule vacation time in a block of two weeks or in two one-week blocks unless the employee makes a written request to schedule the vacation in shorter periods.

The right to vacation time is earned even when an employee spends time away from work due to: layoff; sickness or injury; approved leaves under a contract of employment or collective agreement; or pregnancy, parental, family, medical and emergency leaves.

Employees who work for employers that regularly employ at least 50 employees are entitled to unpaid emergency leave of up to 10 days each year for sickness, medical or dental appointments or a death in the family.

Pregnant employees have a right to take up to 17 weeks of unpaid time off work. Under the federal Employment Insurance program, eligible workers can receive maternity benefits during their pregnancy leave.

In addition, birth mothers who take pregnancy leave are entitled to up to 35 weeks of unpaid parental leave. Birth mothers who do not take pregnancy leave and new fathers are entitled to up to 37 weeks of unpaid parental leave. Under the federal Employment Insurance program, eligible workers can receive parental benefits during their parental leave.

Rules About Workplace Safety & Injury

Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act sets out numerous rights designed to ensure employees health and safety are protected in the workplace.

If you think your employer is doing something to jeopardise your health or safety or is not providing the minimum standards for pay, hours of work, vacation or leaves of absence outlined above, then you should contact the Ontario Labour Relations Board at 416-326-7000 or seek advice from your union or a lawyer. If you are injured in an accident at work or disabled by a disease or other health problem that is work-related, then you should report your injury to your employer and to your union (if you have one) as soon as possible.

An injured employee should also apply for workers’ compensation from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. Such a claim must be filed within six months from the date of the accident or from the date the employee first leaned he or she was injured.

Let the Board decide if you are covered by workers’ compensation or not. In the Toronto area call 416-344-1000, or in the rest of Ontario call toll-free at 1-800-387-0750.

Remember, many employees have written agreements – or, when the workplace has a union, collective agreements – which provide more generous rights and benefits than the minimum rules summarized in this article. The rules at work explained here are the minimum standards an employer is legally required to provide to employees in Ontario.

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