Ontario's labour minister is planning to introduce his third "Working for Workers" bill in as many years.
Monte McNaughton announced Monday he's planning to introduce new legislation in the next few weeks that would see remote workers included in the provincial law that guarantees longer notice periods, or pay in lieu of notice, in mass layoffs.
The current law treats remote workers as "second-class" compared to their in-office colleagues during mass layoffs, McNaughton said at a press conference in Kitchener. "This is wrong, and we're going to fix it. Our government is working for workers by introducing legislation that if passed, will extend mass layoff entitlements to employees who solely work from home."
The mass termination law kicks in when 50 or more employees are terminated within a four-week period and requires the employer to give eight to 16 weeks’ notice, or pay in lieu, depending on the size of the mass layoff.
The change would likely mean remote employees get more termination pay in a mass layoff, according to Natai Shelsen, a litigator and mediator with Goldblatt Partners.
That's because employers rarely let their employees work out their notice period in a mass layoff, but pay them for the notice period instead, she said.
"For instance, a remote employee who has worked for an employer for two years is entitled to two weeks’ notice if they are terminated without cause. But if that employee is terminated with 50 other people in a mass termination, then they are all entitled to eight weeks’ notice," Shelsen said.
The law would make the change by amending the definition of “establishment” to include employees’ remote home offices under the Employment Standards Act.
Depending on how that is done, it could mean that the mass termination provisions would be triggered more often because remote workers would now count toward the calculation of 50-plus employees required to meet the threshold for a mass termination, and it could also potentially capture entirely remote workplaces, according to Shelsen.
"For billion-dollar companies, this change is a blip on their balance sheet," said McNaughton. "But for workers in those families, the peace of mind of having more time to find the next step in their careers will make a huge difference."
The new bill will also require employers to tell employees some basic information about their job before they start: what they're going to be paid, their hours and where they're working, he said.
"Asking your boss questions, especially for young workers, newcomers and others working in precarious roles can be daunting," said McNaughton. "Simply put, every worker should know what their job is before their first day."
The new legislation will also include the recently announced plans to expand cancer coverage for firefighters as well as improvements to employment services for young people on social assistance, he said. The Trillium was told to expect more announcements along these lines as well.
McNaughton has also promised that the province will establish a portable benefits program that would provide workers with benefits such as health, dental and vision care, even if they change jobs, and set up an expert panel to help shape that plan.
The new labour bill will follow two "Working for Workers" bills McNaughton passed in 2021 and 2022, which included giving workers the "right to disconnect," requiring employers to disclose electronic monitoring, and passing the Digital Platform Workers Rights Act, which creates rights for gig workers who accept work through apps, but is not yet in force.