The Ontario government has announced that it will invest $3 million over two years to hire 18 additional Employment Standards Officers and staff. This will enable the Ministry of Labour to conduct more proactive workplace inspections to ensure compliance with the Employment Standards Act, 2000.
The Ministry has identified the following industries that will be targeted for proactive inspections in 2012/2013:
- Auto mechanics
- Building services (e.g., security, parking, cleaning, and food services)
- Car dealerships
- Fast food restaurant franchises
- Gas stations
- Hotel and hospitality
- Private schools
- Temporary help agencies
All provincially-regulated employers should be aware of the possibility of increased workplace inspections because the Ministry of Labour has stated that proactive inspections are not limited to these targeted industries.
Employers are often given advance notice of a proactive inspection, but there is no legal requirement to do so, and an Employment Standards Officer may arrive at the workplace unannounced. During an inspection, an Employment Standards Officer will select a series of employee or payroll files to be audited for compliance with the Act. The Officer may also interview employees, supervisors, and managers. Employers are legally required to produce the requested records and to answer questions asked by an Employment Standards Officer.
Employment Standards Officers may verify compliance with any standard in the Act, but the most commonly inspected standards are:
- Posting of the employment standards poster
- Wage statements
- Deductions from wages
- Record keeping
- Hours of work
- Eating period
- Overtime pay
- Minimum wage
- Public holidays
- Vacation with pay
If an Employment Standards Officer identifies a violation, he or she will usually give the employer an opportunity to voluntarily comply with the Act. If voluntary compliance is not obtained, or it would be inappropriate in the circumstances, the Employment Standards Officer may order the employer to comply with the Act, or to pay wages owing an employee. Employment Standards Officers may also issue tickets for violations of the Act, and recommend that an employer be prosecuted. Prosecution is usually reserved for cases of significant non-compliance or where the employer has failed to comply with an order.
Provincially-regulated employers can prepare their workplaces for increased proactive inspections by conducting an internal audit to ensure that they are in compliance with the Act generally, and with the most commonly inspected standards, in particular.