Inspection blitz forces Ontario employers to cough up $361,000 in unpaid wages

The ministry uncovered that hundreds of workplaces were in violation of employment standards.
The ministry uncovered that hundreds of workplaces were in violation of employment standards. Photo: iStock.

Employers beware!

The Ontario Ministry of Labour is using inspection blitzes to help combat employers who are in violation of the Employment Standards Act.

The ministry is investigating whether businesses are compliant with the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA), which sets out the minimum workplace standards employers and employees must follow.

These audits are not prompted by employee complaints but are rather a proactive tool employed by the provincial government to maintain fairness in the workplace. They also make sure that employers comply with ESA standards like record keeping, wage statements, hours of work, overtime pay, minimum wage and more. The ministry warns employers in advance that they are being audited.

The most recent audit of Ontario employers conducted from May 1, 2015 to July 31, 2015, was focused on precarious employees who are employed seasonally, part-time or on a temporary basis. The ministry audited businesses in the building services industry, investigation and security services, amusement and recreation industries and more.

The findings were not very encouraging, as it turns out that these employees were not treated very well.

The ministry uncovered that out of 304 workplaces that were audited, 232 were in violation. Over $361,000 was recovered in unpaid wages. Employment Standards Officers also issued 704 compliance orders, as well as issuing 47 tickets to employers under Part I of the Provincial Offenses Act, which included a fine of $295 plus a victim fine surcharge.

This is by no means the first foray into workplace inspections, as the ministry has conducted over 2000 proactive inspections since 2013.

Given the sheer scale of violations, it doesn’t look like these blitzes are going to end anytime soon, particularly because vulnerable employees are unlikely to complain about violations. Nevertheless, employment standards compliance still largely relies on individual workers coming forward, which is increasingly unlikely, as many employees are afraid to lose their jobs.

In addition, some employers claim they either don’t know or are confused by Ontario’s employment legislation. That claim seems somewhat strange given the ministry has a lot of informative online resources, such as Your Guide to the Employment Standards Act, 2000, that help explain the requirements of the ESA to both employees and employers.

Ignorance or confusion is not an excuse that allows for contravention of the ESA or other laws, as can be seen by the large volume of compliance orders and tickets issued by the Ministry.

As a parting gift, the ministry provided every workplace that they audited with educational packages that informed them of their responsibilities.

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