The Toronto Star  recently reported that the Ontario Ministry of Labour found 238 employment standards violations in an “inspection blitz” of 304 employers in the cleaning, recreational and security industries. Almost every employer who was found to be in violation of these standards voluntarily rectified their respective issues. This is an important reminder of both the powers of the Ministry’s employment standards officers  and employers’ duties under the Employment Standards Act (“ESA”).

Some of the employers (and their legal and HR teams) mentioned in the Toronto Star article, were unaware that they were being investigated. This is possible because under section 91 of the ESA, employment standards officers are permitted to enter the premises of any employer and conduct an investigation to determine whether it may be in violation of the ESA. Notice may only be required when records are requested.

While conducting an investigation, the officer may examine any relevant records and question any person on issues that may be relevant to the investigation. If an employer is in contravention of the ESA they will be fined between $250 and $1000 per violation. The amount increases for each subsequent violation. More importantly, for any violation of the ESA except for specific provisions on record keeping, the fine amount is multiplied by the number of employees who are affected by the violation.

In targeted inspections from the Ministry in the last two years, the top five types of violations of the ESA were public holiday pay, record keeping, overtime pay, vacation pay, and excessive hours of work. Sometimes the rules on these issues under the ESA can get complicated. A little advice on compliance can go a long way, especially when the inspector comes knocking. Lastly, make sure all employees are aware that when the inspector does come knocking, it’s essential to let the internal legal and HR teams know!

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