New COVID-19 Screening Tool
The Ontario government has released a new COVID-19 Screening Tool for businesses. The person responsible for a business or organization that is permitted to be open must ensure that workers, whether or not they have been vaccinated, are actively screened for COVID-19 before they go to work or start their shift each day. The new Screening Tool has been updated so that vaccinated individuals can skip certain questions in the screening questionnaire. Employers may use the Government’s Screening Tool or develop their own tools, provided that it complies with the Screening Tool questions.
Proposed Changes to the ESA
Employers have likely noticed the buzz in the news about the Government of Ontario’s proposed changes to the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (the “ESA”). The Government’s Bill 27, the Working for Workers Act, 2021 (the “Act”), could have significant implications on businesses with employees in Ontario if it is passed. Below, we break down which of the proposals employers should be aware of.
Disconnecting from Work Policies
The Act would require employers that employ 25 or more employees to have a written policy with respect to disconnecting from work. The term “disconnecting from work” is defined to mean not engaging in work-related communications, including emails, telephone calls, video calls or the sending or reviewing of other messages, so as to be free from the performance of work. The Act does not yet mandate what would be specifically required in the policy, but it could include, for example, expectations about prolonged response time for emails and encouraging employees to turn on out-of-office notifications when they are not working.
Prohibition on Non-Competition Agreements
The Act would prohibit employers from entering into agreements with an employee that are, or that include, a non-compete agreement. This would include non-compete clauses in an employment agreements. The Act does not address non-solicitation agreements or intellectual property agreements. The Act suggests that non-competition clauses in existing employment agreements will become void. While non-competitions are currently common practice, employers are reminded that even without the Act in place, non-competition agreements in Ontario are presumptively unenforceable unless the employer can show that the post-employment restriction is necessary to protect its business interests and reasonable for the employee in the circumstances.
Other propositions made in the Act include measures aimed at making it easier for internationally-trained individuals to practice in regulated professions, establishing a licensing framework for recruiters and temporary help agencies and ensuring washroom access for delivery workers by requiring business owners to allow them to use the washrooms at the businesses they serve.
Increase to Minimum Wage
In addition, the Government introduced legislation that, if passed, would raise the general minimum wage from $14.35 to $15.00 per hour effective January 1, 2022. Under the proposed changes, the special minimum wage rate for liquor servers would be eliminated and they would be entitled to the general minimum wage.
While legislative Bills are not often implemented quickly and there will be some time before we see the practical implications of some, if not all, of these proposals, employers should stay tuned and take proactive steps to meet any new rules being implemented through the Act, if passed. We anticipate there will be exceptions and qualifiers to the above requirements that will be announced in the future. Employers should keep an eye on our newsletter for our future updates on whether the bills become law and if so, what steps businesses in Ontario will need to take to ensure compliance.