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Frequently Asked Questions

  • Content last reviewed: January 2018

Disclaimer

What is the purpose of the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA)?

The ESA sets out the rights and responsibilities of both employees and employers in Ontario workplaces. It also contains provisions that apply to people who are seeking employment with temporary help agencies and, in some cases, to clients of such agencies, even though the client business is not the employer of the person filing a claim under the ESA.

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What employees and employers are not covered by the ESA?

Most employees and employers in Ontario are covered by the ESA. However, the ESA does not apply to certain individuals and persons or organizations for whom they work, including:

  • those in sectors that fall under federal jurisdiction, such as airlines, banks, the federal civil service, post offices, radio and television stations and inter-provincial railways
  • individuals performing work in a work experience program authorized by a private career college registered under the Private Career Colleges Act, 2005
  • people who do community participation under the Ontario Works Act, 1997
  • police officers (except the Lie Detectors part of the ESA, which does apply)
  • inmates taking part in work programs, or people who perform work as part of a sentence or order of a court
  • people who hold political, judicial, religious or trade union offices.

For a complete listing of other job categories not governed by the ESA, please check the ESA and its regulations. Regulations set out exemptions to the law, special rules and details about how to apply certain sections of the ESA.

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Are there rules in the ESA about wage increases?

The ESA does not address wage increases. It does provide for minimum wages.


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Are sick leave, bereavement leave, and leave to care for sick relatives covered under the ESA?

Several job protected leaves for these types of events are available under the ESA:

Personal emergency leave

Personal emergency leave is job-protected leave of up to 10 days each calendar year which may be taken in the case of a personal illness, injury or medical emergency, or a death, illness, injury, medical emergency of, or urgent matter relating to, certain relatives. The first two days taken are paid and the remainder are unpaid. Please refer to the Personal Emergency Leave chapter of Your Guide to the Employment Standards Act for more information.

Family caregiver leave

Family caregiver leave may be taken to provide care or support to certain family members in respect of whom a qualified health practitioner has issued a certificate stating that he or she has a serious medical condition. Family caregiver leave is unpaid, job-protected leave of up to eight (8) weeks per calendar year with respect to each family member. Please refer to the Family Caregiver Leave chapter of Your Guide to the Employment Standards Act for more information.

Family medical leave

Family medical leave is unpaid, job-protected leave of up to eight (8) weeks in a 26 week period.  Family medical leave may be taken to provide care or support to certain family members and people who consider the employee to be like a family member in respect of whom a qualified health practitioner has issued a certificate stating that he or she has a serious illness with a significant risk of death occurring within a period of 26 weeks. Please refer to the Family Medical Leave chapter of Your Guide to the Employment Standards Act for more information.

Critical Illness Leave

Critical Illness leave is unpaid, job-protected leave that can be taken by an employee to provide care or support to a family member of the employee who is critically ill. An employee is eligible to take this leave only if he or she has been employed by his or her employer for at least six consecutive months, and may take up to 37 weeks of leave within a 52-week period to care for a minor child, or up to 17 weeks of leave within a 52-week period to care for an adult. A qualified health practitioner must issue a certificate stating that the family member is critically ill and requires the care or support of one or more family members; it must also set out the period during which the family member requires the care or support. Please refer to the Critical Illness Leave chapter of Your Guide to the Employment Standards Act for more information.

Child death leave

Child death leave is unpaid, job-protected leave of up to 104 weeks that can be taken by an employee if a child of the employee dies. An employee must have been employed for at least six consecutive months to be eligible. Please refer to the Child death leave chapter of Your Guide to the Employment Standards Act for more information.

Crime-related child disappearance leave

Crime-related child disappearance leave is unpaid, job-protected leave of up to 104 weeks that is available if a child of the employee disappears and it is probable, considering the circumstances that the child disappeared as a result of a crime. An employee is eligible to take this leave only if he or she has been employed by his or her employer for at least six consecutive months. Please refer to the Crime-Related Child Disappearance Leave chapter of Your Guide to the Employment Standards Act for more information.

Other available leaves of absence include organ donor, reservist, domestic or sexual violence, pregnancy and parental leave. Please refer to Your Guide to the Employment Standards Act for more information.

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Must employees produce a doctor's note if asked for one by their employer?

If requested by the employer, the employee is required to provide the employer with a copy of a medical certificate relating to the employee’s family caregiver, family medical, or critical illness leave.

An employer is allowed to ask an employee to provide evidence, that is reasonable in the circumstance, that they are eligible to take a child death, domestic or sexual violence, crime-related child disappearance, or personal emergency leave. However, the employer is not allowed to ask for a doctor’s note for personal emergency leave.

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If an employee is off sick, or away from work caring for a sick relative, can he or she be fired?

An employer cannot punish an employee in any way for missing work because they are on a leave.

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Can employees take time off for doctor's appointments?

Personal emergency leave days can be used to attend a doctor's appointment if the appointment is because of an illness, injury or medical emergency. This leave is job-protected.

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Can employees choose to take their employer to court for wrongful dismissal rather than filing a claim with the Ministry of Labour?

An employee can choose to sue an employer in a court of law for wrongful dismissal. However, an employee can't sue an employer for wrongful dismissal and have a claim for termination or severance pay investigated by the ministry for the same termination or severance. The employee must choose one procedure or the other. Please refer to the Termination of Employment, and Severance Pay chapters of Your Guide to the Employment Standards Act.

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What does the law say about coffee breaks?

An employee must not work for more than five hours in a row without getting a 30-minute eating period (meal break) free from work. If the employer and employee agree, the 30-minute eating period may be taken as two breaks within each five-consecutive-hour work period. Meals breaks are unpaid unless the employee’s employment contract requires payment. Employers do not have to give employees “coffee” breaks or any other kind of break other than the eating period.

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If an employee works late, is the employer required to provide a ride home?

Employers have no obligation to provide transportation to or from work under the ESA, although individual contracts of employment or a collective agreement may require it.

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Do employers have the right to schedule an employee to work an overnight shift alone?

The ESA does not put restrictions on the timing of an employee's shift, other than the restrictions relating to hours of work (i.e., the maximum length of a work day, certain number of hours employees are entitled to be free of work, eating periods).

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Do employees get paid more for working Sundays, or for working late at night?

There is nothing in the ESA that requires employees to be paid more for working Sundays, or late at night.

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What if an employee has an agreement to receive more than the minimum requirements set out in the ESA?

If a provision in an agreement provides a greater right or benefit than an employment standard, then that provision applies.

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Can an employee agree not to receive his or her rights under the ESA?

No employee can agree to give up his or her rights under the ESA (for example, the right to personal emergency leave). Any such agreement is invalid.

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What are the rules about dress codes?

The employer is responsible for making decisions about dress codes, uniforms and other clothing requirements. However, a dress code can't violate a collective agreement at the workplace, the Ontario Human Rights Code or the rules under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

Section 25.1 of the OHSA prohibits an employer from requiring a worker to wear footwear with an elevated heel unless it is required for the worker to work safely. There is an exception to this prohibition for employers of workers working as performers in the entertainment and advertising industry.

The section 25.1 provision of the OHSAdoes not affect any footwear personal protective equipment requirements in regulations made under the OHSA. Footwear provisions in the Regulations for Construction Projects (O. Reg. 213/91), Mines and Mining Plants (Regulation 854), Industrial Establishments (Regulation 851), Health Care and Residential Facilities (O. Reg. 67/93), and Oil and Gas – Offshore (Regulation 855) remain unchanged.

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Can an employer deduct the cost of a uniform, or other items, from an employee’s pay?

Some employers require employees to pay for personal uniforms or other items as a condition of having a job. This practice is not prohibited by the ESA. However, an employer may make a deduction from an employee’s wages for the cost of a uniform or other items only if the employee agrees in writing to have a specified amount deducted. Employees should ask the employer about any special requirements before accepting a job.

Even if an employee agrees in writing, there are certain situations where the deduction may not be made. For example, an employer cannot make deductions for a cash shortage when more than one individual has access to a cash register – even with a written agreement. Also, an employer is prohibited from deducting an amount due to faulty work.

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Are employers entitled to a portion of their employees’ tips or other gratuities?

Employers cannot withhold tips and other gratuities from employees or make deductions from their employees’ tips to cover things like spillage, breakage, losses or damage, etc. However, employers may make deductions from tips if it is required by statute or court order. Employers may also make deductions from tips if the employer is collecting and redistributing the tips or other gratuities among some or all of the employees (a practice commonly known as “tip pooling”).

Even if the employer collects tips or other gratuities to redistribute them as part of a tip pool, a sole proprietor, partner, director or shareholder in the business can only participate in the tip pool where he or she regularly performs to a substantial degree the same work performed by some or all of the employees who share in the redistribution, or the same work performed by employees of other employers in the same industry who commonly receive or share tips or other gratuities.

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Are employees entitled to discounts on their employers' products?

This isn't covered by the ESA. The employer is responsible for deciding whether employees get a discount on products the employer makes or sells, or on services the employer provides. The employer is also the one who determines how much the discount will be.

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What about employment insurance and Records of Employment (“ROE”)?

These come under the jurisdiction of the federal government. See the Blue Pages of your telephone book under "Employment and Social Development, Employment Insurance Telemessage."

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What are the rules about sexual harassment, harassment and discrimination?

The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) requires employers to develop a workplace harassment policy and program, and to provide information and instruction to workers on the policy and program.

Effective September 8, 2016, amendments to the OHSA added the following requirements:

  • An employer’s workplace harassment program must:
    • set out measures and procedures to report workplace harassment to a designated person other than the employer if the alleged harasser is the employer;
    • set out how confidentiality during investigations will be maintained; and
    • set out that the results of the investigation and any corrective action will be providing in writing to the complainant and alleged harasser (if under the employer’s direction).
  • The employer has new duties:
    1. a duty to investigate all workplace harassment complaints as appropriate
    2. a duty to ensure the complainant and alleged harasser (if under the employer’s direction) are informed of the results of the investigation and any corrective action, in writing;
    3. a duty to review the program as often as necessary, but at least once a year, to ensure that it adequately implements the workplace harassment policy

The amendments also:

  • added a new definition of workplace sexual harassment to the OHSA and clarify that workplace harassment includes sexual harassment;
    • Workplace sexual harassment would include harassment of a worker because of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression or an unwelcome sexual solicitation or advance by a person who is in the position to confer, grant or deny a benefit or advancement.
  • clarified that workplace harassment does not include a “reasonable management action.” These actions would be part of a manager’s or supervisor’s normal work function, and could include changes in work assignments, scheduling, job assessment and evaluation.
  • provided inspectors with the authority (where circumstances warrant) to order a workplace harassment investigation by an impartial person, at the employer’s expense.

Information about workplace harassment can be found on the Ministry of Labour’s website.

For more information, or to file a complaint against an employer under the OHSA, workers may call the Ministry of Labour Health and Safety Contact Centre at 1-877-202-0008.

Information on Bill 132 and the amendments to the OHSA can be found on the Legislative Assembly of Ontario’s website.

For information about the prohibition of sexual harassment, harassment and discrimination under the Ontario Human Rights Code, call your local Ontario Human Rights Commission office. See the Blue Pages of your telephone book under "Human Rights, Ontario Human Rights Commission."

For information about domestic or sexual violence leave under the ESA, please refer to the domestic or sexual violence leave chapter of Your Guide to the Employment Standards Act.

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Are pensions covered by the ESA?

The ESA does not require employers to provide pension plans. However, if they do, they are required to allow employees to continue participating in the plans (and certain other benefit plans, if these are provided) when on pregnancy, parental, personal emergency, family caregiver, family medical, critically ill child care, organ donor, reservist (with some exceptions), or crime-related child death or disappearance leave under the ESA. In addition, the ESA does not allow employers to discriminate on the basis of age, sex, marital status or same-sex partnership status in the provision of benefit plans, including pension plans, unless this is allowed by the Benefit Plans Regulation under the ESA. For other information, call the Financial Services Commission 416-250-7250 or toll-free 1-800-668-0128.

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What if the employer does not follow the ESA?

If an employee thinks the employer is not complying with the ESA, he or she can call the Ministry of Labour's Employment Standards Information Centre at 416-326-7160 or toll free at 1-800-531-5551 for more information about the ESA and how to file a claim. Claims are investigated by an employment standards officer who can, if necessary, make orders against an employer-including an order to comply with the ESA. The ministry has a number of other options to enforce the ESA, including requesting voluntary compliance, issuing an order to pay wages, an order to reinstate and/or compensate, a notice of contravention, or issuing a ticket or otherwise prosecuting the employer under the Provincial Offences Act.

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For More Information

If you have questions about the Employment Standards Act, 2000, call the Ministry of Labour's Employment Standards Information Centre at 416-326-7160, toll free at 1-800-531-5551, or TTY 1-866-567-8893.

Information on the ESA can also be found at the Employment Standards section of the Ministry of Labour's website.

You can order copies of the Employment Standards Act, 2000 and related information materials from: Publications Ontario, 1-800-668-9938; Hearing Impaired TTY 1-800-268-7095, or the Ontario government E-Laws website.

Disclaimer: This resource has been prepared to help employees and employers understand some of the minimum rights and obligations established under the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA) and regulations. It is not legal advice. It is not intended to replace the ESA or regulations and reference should always be made to the official version of the legislation. Although we endeavor to ensure that the information in this resource is as current and accurate as possible, errors do occasionally occur. The ESA provides minimum standards only. Some employees may have greater rights under an employment contract, collective agreement, the common law or other legislation. Employers and employees may wish to obtain legal advice.