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Workplace Rights

  • Issued: March 2014
  • Content last reviewed: February 2014

Note: This document does not constitute legal advice. To determine your rights and obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, Pay Equity Act, Labour Relations Act, and the Employment Standards Act, and their regulations, please contact your legal counsel or refer to the legislation.

You have the right:

  • to be treated fairly at work
  • to work in a safe and healthy workplace
  • to be trained to deal with workplace hazards, and
  • to join a trade union.

It’s the law. Those, and other rights, are protected by the Employment Standards Act (ESA), the Pay Equity Act (PEA), the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and the Labour Relations Act (LRA).

Workplace fairness

Ontario’s Employment Standards Act sets minimum standards for things like pay, work hours and time off. Most workplaces in Ontario must follow this law. Your rights are the same whether you work full-time or part-time.

Your basic rights under the ESA

  1. Getting paid
    You should get a regular pay day and an accompanying wage statement (“pay stub”) that is clear. It’s a good idea to keep a record of the hours that you work. Most employees are entitled to be paid at least the regular minimum wage; however, the minimum wage is different for students, liquor servers, homeworkers and hunting and fishing guides.
  2. Overtime
    Most employees must be paid overtime pay after 44 hours of work each week. The overtime rate must be at least 1½ times the regular rate of pay.
  3. Public holidays
    Ontario has nine public holidays every year.
    • New Year's Day
    • Family Day
    • Good Friday
    • Victoria Day
    • Canada Day
    • Labour Day
    • Thanksgiving Day
    • Christmas Day
    • Boxing Day (December 26).
    Most employees are entitled to take these days off work and be paid public holiday pay. Alternatively, they can agree in writing to work on the holiday and they will be paid:
    • public holiday pay plus premium pay for the hours worked on the public holiday, or
    • their regular rate for hours worked on the holiday, plus they will receive another day off (called a “substitute” holiday) with public holiday pay.
    If you work in a hotel, motel, tourist resort, restaurant, tavern, hospital, or an establishment with continuous operations, you may have to work on a public holiday. If you do, you should get another day off with public holiday pay or be paid premium pay for all the hours you worked that holiday, plus get public holiday pay. Premium pay is 1½ times your regular rate of pay. Learn more about public holiday pay, public holidays, special rules and exemptions for different types of work.
  4. Vacation time and pay
    Most employees earn at least two weeks of vacation after every 12 months. You are entitled to be paid at least four per cent of your total wages earned as vacation pay. Any vacation pay not already paid is owed to you when your employment ends.
  5. Temporary help agency work
    Temporary help agency employees generally have the same rights as other employees under the ESA.
  6. Deductions from wages
    Only three types of deductions can be made from your wages: statutory (e.g., taxes), court-ordered and those authorized by you in writing.
    Some employers require you to pay for your uniform. Deductions from your wages to pay for a uniform may be made only if you agree in writing to have a specified amount deducted. If a customer leaves without paying, or your error costs your employer money, that amount can’t be deducted from your wages.
  7. Special rules
    Some jobs have special standards or exemptions. See our Special Rule Tool to learn more.
  8. The Employment Standards poster
    Your employer should have the Employment Standards poster displayed where you can read about some of your ESA rights.
  9. When a job ends
    In most cases, after working continuously for three months, you must receive advance notice in writing and/or termination pay if your employer ends your employment. The amount of notice and termination pay depends on how long you have been employed in the job.

The basics of Pay Equity

The right to equal pay for work of equal value

In Ontario, both men and women have the right to receive equal pay for doing work that may be very different in nature, but is of equal value. That right is protected by the Pay Equity Act.

The PEA requires employers to ensure employees in female job classes (jobs done mostly by women) are paid as much as workers in male job classes (jobs done mostly by men) when they are found to be comparable in value to the organization based on skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions.

The PEA covers male and female employees in female job classes of all public sector employers and of private sector employers with 10 or more employees in Ontario.

Employers are required to provide you with information about pay equity in your workplace. If you are represented by a union, your bargaining agent may be able to provide you with pay equity information.

Employers cannot fire or punish you for asking about pay equity or exercising your right to pay equity.

For more information or if you think that your employer has not achieved pay equity, please contact the Pay Equity Office at pecinfo.pecinfo@ontario.ca

The right to equal pay for equal work

The Employment Standards Act also has provisions that ensure women and men receive equal pay for performing substantially the same job. That means work that requires the same skill, effort, responsibility, and is done under similar working conditions in the same establishment. Exceptions include: higher pay based on seniority, merit, a piecework system, etc.

The basics of the Labour Relations Act

Under Ontario’s Labour relations Act, you have the right to join a trade union and participate in legal union activities.

It’s against the law for an employer to fire you or discriminate against you for:

  • joining a union
  • your past association with a bargaining agent, and
  • exercising any other rights under the LRA.

It’s also against the law for a union or employer to intimidate or coerce you to join or not join a union.

Safe and healthy workplace

The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) sets out the rights and duties of workers, supervisors and employers in keeping workplaces safe and healthy in provincially regulated workplaces.

Your basics rights under the OHSA

The right to know

You have the right to know about hazards in your workplace and to be trained how to protect yourself from harm. As of July 1, 2014, the law requires employers to make sure that all of their workers and supervisors have completed basic health and safety awareness training. This training outlines workers’, supervisors’ and employers’ rights, roles and responsibilities in keeping workplaces safe and healthy. This basic training for all workers and supervisors is in addition to other more detailed training required by law that depends on your workplace.

The right to refuse

You have the right to refuse unsafe work, including situations where you believe you’re in danger of workplace violence. Your employer cannot fire or discipline you for refusing unsafe work or for asking them to address a health and safety issue. Your employer can’t penalize you for following workplace health and safety laws and for obeying a Ministry of Labour inspector’s order. This would be an unlawful reprisal.

Report hazards and any violations of workplace health and safety law right away to your supervisor or employer. If you can’t get health and safety problems fixed at work, call the Ministry of Labour Health and Safety Contact Centre toll-free at 1-877-202-0008. You don’t have to give your name. Services may be offered in various languages, in addition to English and French.

The right to participate

You also have the right to help identify and resolve workplace health and safety concerns. There are many ways you can do this, such as asking questions, raising concerns and giving positive feedback. One of the most effective ways you can get involved is to join the health and safety committee at your workplace.

Tips for staying safe at work

  1. Get training: Learn how to work safely. Follow the rules and know what to do in an emergency.
  2. Be supervised: Is there a supervisor to see that you are doing the job, correctly? If the supervisor is not around, there should be a replacement.
  3. Wear the gear: Hair nets, gloves, aprons, safety glasses, ear plugs, etc. are safety gear. Use them correctly, as required.
  4. Identify risks: Before you start the job, report unsafe practices and situations to your supervisor or employer.
  5. If you don’t know, ask! There are no “dumb” questions. If you don’t know, ask your supervisor:
    • What are the hazards of this job?
    • Is there any special training needed for this job?
    • Do I have the right protective equipment for this job?
    • If I have any questions about safety, who do I ask?
  6. Do your job: Don’t do anything you haven’t been asked to do, or have been told specifically not to do.
  7. Follow the safety rules: You must work safely and use the required equipment properly. Keep protection devices in place. And if you don’t know the safety rules, ask your supervisor.
  8. Report hazards: Tell your supervisor if you see anything hazardous, even if the danger is not to you but to another worker.
  9. If you’re hurt: No matter how minor, report injuries to your supervisor or employer.
  10. Talk to your family: Tell them what you’re doing at work. Let them know if you think something’s wrong.
  11. Be honest: If a task is too much for you, say so! Don’t attempt something that you can’t handle.
  12. Never assume: Don’t assume you can do something without instruction, guidance or supervision.

Basic health and safety awareness training

To help employers make sure that each of their workers and supervisors receive basic health and safety awareness training, the Ministry of Labour provides a set of training programs at no charge in multiple formats and in multiple languages.

The training programs include:

These training programs are available for download on the Ministry of Labour website. You can also order printed copies from ServiceOntario.

Mandatory “Prevention Starts Here” poster

Since October 1, 2012, employers have had to post the mandatory “Prevention Starts Here” poster in English and the majority language of the workplace. The poster is available at no cost for download on the Ministry of Labour website in various languages, and in print from ServiceOntario.

More things you should know about workplace health and safety

You can file a complaint for unlawful reprisal with the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) toll-free at 1-877-339-3335. (It’s against the law for your employer to fire or discipline you for refusing unsafe work or missing work due to a work-related illness, etc.) Unionized workers can file a complaint with their union under their collective agreements. If the OLRB decides that your employer has broken the law, it may order your employer to pay your lost wages or give you your job back. If you do not belong to a union, you can get help to file a reprisal claim from the Office of the Worker Advisor (OWA); call toll-free 1-855-659-7744 or visit their website.

If you think you may have work-related health problems, you may call Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW) toll-free at 1-877-817-0336. At an OHCOW clinic a medical doctor will assess you and decide if the health problem is work-related. Your medical information is confidential and you do not need an Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) card. Services are offered in many languages.

If you’re injured at work and the incident involves health care treatment and/or time away from work, or lost wages, your employer must report your injury/illness to the Workplace Safety Insurance Board (WSIB) within three days of the incident. This can be done online or toll-free at 1-800-387-0750.

As a worker, you can claim benefits for a work-related injury or accident if you have received medical care, lost time or wages after the day of the incident, or continued to work, but on partial hours only. A WSIB claim must be filed within six months of your injury or the onset of your illness. Access the online form that workers must complete.

Multilingual resources

The Ministry of Labour has information to help you understand your workplace rights and responsibilities in many different languages.

Learn more

Call the Employment Standards Information Centre. Service offered in many languages.

  • Greater Toronto Area: 416-326-7160
  • Toll-free: 1-800-531-5551
  • TTY: 1-866-567-8893

Anonymous information

All information provided anonymously by employees and third parties to the Employment Standards Information Centre about possible violations is passed to the appropriate Ministry staff for review and for possible proactive activity. It is important to note that not every “tip” results in a proactive activity, and that giving an anonymous tip does not give the individual who gave it any appeal rights.

Call the Health and Safety Contact Centre to report critical injuries, fatalities, work refusals or other concerns. Services provided in many languages. Toll-free: 1-877-202-0008. You can also e-mail your questions to webohs@ontario.ca. Reponses will be made within 5 business days. In an emergency, always call 911 immediately. TTY: 1-855-653-9260.