Ontario proposes worker-friendly labor laws

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ontario’s labor market has experienced significant disruption and an ever-changing work landscape. Employers are grappling with redefined workplaces, rapidly changing public health standards and the need for economic revitalization.

To help the province’s recovery strategy, the Ontario government has introduced Bill 27: Labor Law for Workers, October 25, 2021. If passed, this act will amend many pieces of legislation, including the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA), with the goal of improving protection and support for workers in Ontario while maintaining a competitive advantage to attract the world’s best talent.

Disconnecting from the work policy

Significantly, Bill 27 amends the ESA by introducing a requirement for employers with 25 or more employees on January 1 of any year to ensure, by March 1 of that year, that they have a written policy in place for all employees regarding work disconnection.

Disconnecting from work is defined as “not to engage in work-related communications, including e-mails, phone calls, video calls, or sending or reviewing other messages, in order to be free to the execution of the work ”.

The policy should include the date it was prepared and the date (s) when changes were made to it. Employers will be required to provide a copy to each employee within 30 days of the preparation of this policy or, if an existing policy is changed, within 30 days of any change.

The same 30 day window also applies to the provision of the policy to new employees. Notably, employers will be required to keep copies of each policy for three years after the policy ends.

While the current draft of Bill 27 does not prescribe any mandatory content for such policies, it does indicate upcoming regulations that will prescribe certain elements that must be contained in the policy.

Bill 27 passed first reading and is expected to receive Royal Assent and pass. In terms of compliance, an employer would have six months from that date (not March 1) to put a policy in place. The date the employer would use to assess whether it has 25 or more employees would be January 1 preceding the date that is six months after the day the law receives Royal Assent.

The proposed legislation stems from recommendations made by the Ontario Workforce Recovery Advisory Committee (OWRAC), which consulted with a range of community stakeholders, including workers, employers and unions. OWRAC was created this summer to help position the province as “the best place in North America to recruit, retain and reward workers.”

Implications for the real estate sector

The real estate and property management sectors may face particular obstacles in implementing the proposed work disconnection policy.

In order to oversee and manage projects with minimal disruption to commercial or residential properties, workflow, or people’s lives, employees in these industries are generally required to respond to work requests in real time, outside of business hours. opening hours and in a wide range of physical parameters.

While some monitoring and management can be done remotely and within “reasonable” working hours (for example, by performing virtual surveillance of the property), the nature of each project may inherently require on-site staff, who ‘they are facility cleaners, property managers and / or maintenance. personnel, to ensure safety, compliance and efficiency.

Additionally, employees desperate to keep their jobs in the midst of such economic uncertainty intend to be nimble and available around the clock to meet the demands of employers in all industries. Advances in technology have entrenched the expectation of meeting real-time demands more deeply, undermining the notion of a “typical workday” in industries that require 24-hour commitments.

As public health guidelines regarding work landscapes (both physical and substantive) continue to change, the flexibility and adaptability of the employer to different forms, modes or methods of managing and monitoring assets, based on transparency, will be essential.

Bill 27 and its regulations have not been passed, so employers cannot yet know the scope or extent of their obligations with respect to some of the proposed changes to the ESA or what that means for their workforce.

Many fear that this legislation, instead of helping workers and / or promoting a better work-life balance, could create a two-tiered workforce through which some employees would choose to opt out in accordance with existing policy. square.

Others might remain constantly available, hungry for extra work and determined to earn overtime, being considered for promotions and / or bonuses. The prospect of inadvertent reputational or financial sanction for employees who abide by the policy could be significant.

The extent to which it is even plausible that the real estate and property management sectors will completely disconnect from observing “regular” working days remains to be determined by the scope defined in future regulations.

Important questions remain regarding implementation and enforcement. This may force these sectors to re-conceptualize the way in which management and oversight are carried out. This includes the ability to streamline processes to improve efficiency (including advanced technology) and / or reconfigure tasks and diversify the composition of the workforce to ensure work is done in a manner that appropriate while respecting the rights of employees, without retaliation.

Flora Vineberg is a lawyer at SpringLaw. She specializes in labor and employment law, with a particular focus on sexual assault, harassment and human rights litigation, as well as workplace investigations. Employing a client-centered, trauma-informed approach, Flora’s training in criminal and civil law enables her to represent clients from all walks of life with compassion, tenacity and focus. She can be reached at [email protected]

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