Work It: Know Your Rights At Work In Ontario

know your rights at workFor many people, navigating life in the workplace can be daunting, stressful, and intimidating to say the least, but it should never cost you your health, sanity, or dignity.  After talking to several of our peers in various industries, we realized that many Ontario workers aren’t aware of, or didn’t even realize that they – wait for it – HAVE rights on the job.  Keeping your work-life balance, well… balanced, is tricky enough, but it’s also essential for your overall happiness, livelihood, and success.  Thanks to the Ontario Ministry of Labour and the Ontario Human Rights Commission, certain regulations and standards have been set in place to protect us all.  So for those of you who may be struggling, or feel that something just isn’t kosher at work, here are some things you should know about your rights at work in Ontario:

Employment Standards Act (ESA) – With a few exceptions (like industries under federal jurisdiction, police officers, unionized labour, etc.), most workers are protected by the Ontario Employment Standards Act, in which an “employee” is defined as:

(a) a person, including an officer of a corporation, who performs work for an employer for wages,

(b) a person who supplies services to an employer for wages,

(c) a person who receives training from a person who is an employer, as set out in subsection (2), or

(d) a person who is a homeworker

So in other words, it doesn’t matter if you are full-time, part-time, or working on a temporary basis or contract… you are still protected.  To determine your eligibility, check out the ESA factsheet.

Hours – Under the ESA, employees should not work more than 8 hours per day, or 48 hours per week, unless there is a written agreement between the employee and the employer pertaining to the extended hours.  For every hour worked beyond 44 per week, employees should be paid overtime at a rate of 1.5 times their usual wage (“time and a half”).

Breaks – Under the ESA, employees are entitled to a 30 minute food break, for every 5 hours of consecutive work (meaning, eating at your desk isn’t mandatory).  Furthermore, employees must have 11 consecutive hours off per work day (ie. in a 24 hour period), and 24 consecutive hours off per work week.  Yes… sleeping is your right too!

Payday – Under the ESA, employees are entitled to a specific, recurring payday and/or pay-schedule, and should receive a detailed wage statement.

Vacation Time – Yes… that’s a thing!  Under the ESA, employees are entitled to 2 weeks of paid vacation time, with vacation pay calculated using a minimum of 4% of gross wages.  Yup: you’ll still receive your pay as you sip margaritas on the beach or hit the aprés ski scene.

Leave of Absence – Under the ESA, employees are entitled to various types of short and long-term leaves of absence, and still have their job waiting upon their return (or a comparable position if their previous one no longer exists).  Some of the more common scenarios include pregnancy and parental leave, personal emergency leave, and family caregiver or medical leave, but sometimes even stress can be reason enough to warrant a break.  So before you have that nervous breakdown, consider your options.

Medical Needs – Whether you suffer from diabetes or irritable bowel syndrome, a lot of people are afraid to discuss their medical needs with management, simply from the fear of being seen as weak or incapable of doing the job.  Well under the ESA, employers have a duty to accommodate your disability up to the point that it would cause undue hardship.  In other words, unless it’s going to bankrupt the company (literally or figuratively), your boss must take an active role in facilitating your situation – whether that means more flexible hours, special tools or resources, extra breaks, etc.  So don’t be shy, because they also have a duty to keep these issues confidential.

Discrimination – As women with years under our belts working in restaurants and bars, we know all too well the pressures of sexualized dress codes; from short tight skirts, to painful high heels and low-cut tops.  Well just last week, the Ontario Human Rights Commission actually stated on their website that, “Sex-based dress codes undermine women’s dignity and may make them more vulnerable to sexual harassment from other staff, customers and management… Employers have a duty under the Code to remove barriers to women’s full and equal participation in employment, take steps to prevent sexual harassment and respond to it quickly when it occurs.”

In fact, under the Ontario Human Rights Code, every person has the right to equal treatment with respect to their employment without discrimination or harassment, and this applies to every aspect of the workplace (from your job application to dismissal), and covers your rate of pay, overtime, hours, holidays, benefits, shift work, discipline and evaluations.

Moral of the story?  Don’t let The Man keep you down.  After all… it’s 2016.

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