As you may have already heard, the Wynne government has recently announced that it will be making significant changes to the Employment Standards Act and to the Labour Relations Act. It is anticipated that the changes will come into force later this year.
The proposed amendments represent the most far-reaching changes to Ontario employment law in over two decades. Here is a summary of some of the changes and how they may impact on dental offices.
Increase in minimum wage to $15/hr
Minimum wage in Ontario, which is currently $11.60/hr, will increase to $14/hr as of January 1, 2018 and further increase to $15/hr the following year. This represents a 30% increase in the minimum wage. Many dentists may feel that this change will not impact their practices since they don’t pay any of their staff the minimum wage. However, the general consensus among economists is that these changes will have significant inflationary pressure on all wages. Suppose, for example, that you pay a first year dental assistant $17/hr. Presently, the dental assistant may feel that he or she is earning a fair wage because it is currently $5.40 above the minimum wage. However, once the minimum wage is $15/hr, the first year dental assistant will likely be asking for a starting salary more than just $2 above the minimum wage to take into account the education and training he or she has obtained. This will then have a ripple effect on the pay structure for your entire team of dental assistants.
Minimum 3 weeks or 6% paid vacation for employees with 5 years of service or more
Presently, many dental practices pay the minimum required 4% or two weeks vacation for all part-time staff. This minimum will be increasing to 6% or three weeks vacation for all staff with 5 years of service or more. Again, this will contribute to overall increases in wage costs.
Minimum 3 hour wages
Schedules are always changing in dental practices. Perhaps one of the dentists calls in sick on short notice or the schedule doesn’t fill up completely with patients and so the clinical day is shortened or cancelled completely and part-time staff is notified accordingly. With the new changes, there will be costs associated with these last minute changes to the schedule. Whenever an employer cancels an employee’s shift on less than 48 hours’ notice, the employer must pay the employees a minimum of 3 hours’ wages. Furthermore, employers must pay their employees a minimum of 3 hour’ wages whenever they report to work, even if they are subsequently sent home early without having worked the full 3 hours.
Sick and Personal Leave Days and Doctor Notes
Presently, an employer is not required to offer any paid sick days to its employees. With the new changes, all employers will have to give a minimum of 10 personal emergency leave days of which at least 2 must be paid. In addition, employers will not be allowed to ask for doctor notes confirming the illness.
Equal Wages for Equal Work
Employers will be required to pay the same wage to employees doing the same work whether they are casual, part-time, probationary or full-time (with some exceptions based on seniority, etc.). Employees will have the right to request a review of their wages to ensure that they are receiving equal wages as their co-workers doing the same work. Consequently, employers will be required to be more transparent about staff wages. Along the same lines, temporary workers will have the right to be paid the same wage by the agency as the workers they are replacing. This again means that dentists will have to disclose existing wage rates to the agencies and the temporary worker will know, and can communicate to others within the practice, their wage rate.
Employee v. Independent Contractor
Many dental practices have hired staff, in particular dentists, hygienists, bookkeepers and IT workers, as independent contractors. Employers will have to carefully review those arrangements to ensure that the worker is truly an independent contractor e.g. the worker controls how and when the work is done, supplies their own tools and equipment, works for other customers, has the potential to earn profits and generate losses, can subcontract their work to others, is not an integral part of the dental practice, etc. Under the new rules, there will be a presumption that all workers are employees and the onus will be on the employer to prove that the worker is indeed an independent contractor with significant penalties if the independent contractor is found to be an employee.
Changes to the Labour Relations Act
A number of changes will be made to the Labour Relations Act which will make it easier for unions to unionize employers. For instance, currently, a union requires the support of at least 40% of the employees to bring an application for union certification. Under the new rules, a union only requires 20% support in order to be entitled to request, from the employer, the names, phone numbers and email address of all employees from the employer so that the union can communicate to all staff the potential benefits of unionization.
Ministry of Labour will be more proactive in terms of enforcement Under the new legislation, the Ministry will be hiring 175 new officers/inspectors and the emphasis will move away from an individual “complaint driven system” towards a “culture of compliance” and a “more traditional law enforcement agency”.
The above is a summary of just some of the highlights of the sweeping changes to Ontario’s labour and employment laws being introduced by Bill 148. It is important that all dentists become familiar with the proposed amendments, the potential impact of these changes on the operation of their practices, and be aware of potential costs and penalties involved if they fail to abide by the new rules.
Disclaimer – This article is provided for general information only and is not intended as professional legal advice. Its contents are not intended to provide legal opinions and readers should, therefore, seek professional legal advice on any particular employment issues which concern them.
Will is the Chief Operating Officer of Argyle Associates. He is a lawyer who has worked previously in private legal practice and has been employed as general counsel for several companies.