Under the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA), most employers and employees in Ontario have certain obligations and rights, known as “employment standards.”
This chapter provides a summary of important employment standards that employers and employees should be aware of, including:
- payment of wages
- hours of work and overtime
- public holidays
- leaves of absence and more
Key employment standards
The following are important employment standards that employers and employees should be aware of. You can learn more about them in their respective chapters in this guide.
Use the Employment Standards Self-Service Tool to check compliance with hours of work, overtime, public holidays, termination, severance and other employment standards entitlements.
There are limits to the number of hours employees can work in a day and week. An employee can agree to work more hours, but only if there is a written agreement (including electronically) between the employee and employer.
Most employees are entitled to be paid at least the minimum wage. There is a general minimum wage that applies to most employees, and there are specialized minimum wages for:
- hunting, fishing and wilderness guides
Most employees who have worked less than five years at their job earn at least two weeks of vacation time after every 12 months. They must also be paid at least 4% of the wages they earned as vacation pay. Most employees who have worked five or more years earn at least three weeks of vacation time and must be paid at least 6% of the total wages they earned as vacation pay.
Ontario has nine public holidays every year. Most employees are entitled to take these days off work with public holiday pay. Employees can agree in writing (including electronically) to work on a public holiday and be paid public holiday pay plus premium pay or be paid their regular wages and receive a substitute day off in addition.
If you are terminating an employee’s job, that employee qualifies for written notice, termination pay instead of notice, or a combination of both. The amount of notice or pay depends on how long the employee has been working for you.
Severance pay is paid to qualified employees who have had their employment severed. Severance pay is not the same as termination pay, which is given in place of the required notice of termination of employment. If an employee qualifies for severance pay, they must receive it in addition to any termination pay or notice.
The employment standards poster is provided to inform employees about their rights under the ESA. Employers must provide all employees covered under the ESA with a copy of the most recent version of the employment standards poster within 30 days of hiring them. It is available in multiple languages and can be downloaded for free from the government of Ontario website.
Leaves of absence
Under the ESA, eligible employees are entitled to several types of job-protected leaves of absence. Employees cannot be terminated for asking for or taking these leaves of absence. Learn more about leaves of absence by selecting an available leave from the table of contents in this guide.
Employers must keep written records about each employee for a certain time period. Records can either be kept by the employer or someone authorized to keep them on their behalf (such as an accountant or a payroll company). Regardless, these records must be readily available for a Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development employment standards officer if they ask for them.
How employment standards are enforced
If an employee feels their rights have been violated under the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA), they can file a complaint with the Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development and have that complaint investigated by an employment standards officer. Employers will be provided with an opportunity to participate in the investigation and may be asked to supply evidence, records or other information. If an employment standards officer determines that an employee’s rights have been violated, the employer may be required to remedy the violation (for example, by paying money owed to the employee). In addition, the employer can be issued an administrative fine and be prosecuted.
Employers cannot punish their employees for claiming or asking about their rights under the ESA. Punishing an employee for exercising their rights is known as a ‘reprisal.’ Employers that commit a reprisal can be ordered to financially compensate employees.
The ESA is enforced by employment standards officers who visit businesses throughout Ontario to educate employers on their obligations and ensure employees’ rights are protected. Watch our video about what to expect during an employment standards inspection.
Employment standards officers can visit businesses even if there have been no complaints filed. These officers will help correct areas where businesses are not complying with the ESA. Employment standards officers usually provide advance notice of an inspection. They will review an employer’s records and speak to both the employer and their employees.
If there are issues of non-compliance, the employment standards officer will discuss them with the employer and, depending on the violation, they may provide an opportunity to correct the issues before taking enforcement action such as issuing an order. There are several types of orders:
Employers must comply with the order according to its terms. If employees or employers are not satisfied with an officer's decision, they may have the right to apply for a review (appeal) to the Ontario Labour Relations Board within 30 days.
Penalties and prosecutions
Violating the ESA can result in monetary penalties (a ticket or notice of contravention) or court orders (prosecutions) worth tens of thousands of dollars or more. When the employer is an individual and not a corporation, they can also face jail time. Directors of corporations can be held personally liable for their company’s violations and can face fines or jail sentences or both. Some names of convicted employers and directors are posted online. Instead of incurring the cost of these penalties, businesses can save money and avoid potential jail time by acting in compliance with the law.