Methods of Recourse in Ontario

It’s unfortunate that more people don’t know their rights under the law, especially when it comes to workplace situations.

Typically what happens when there is an issue in the workplace is that an employee goes to his or her supervisor and makes a complaint. In the absence of a union or proactive HR department, the complaint often falls on deaf ears because, more often than not, managers and payroll people aren’t familiar enough with pertinent employment legislation. Having been in this situation before, I know firsthand how frustrating it can be when no one seems to care that your vacation pay wasn’t calculated properly or that you weren’t paid the overtime that you were entitled to for working on a holiday or, worse yet, that you were injured on the job. So what methods do you have for recourse?

Well, first of all, if you belong to a union, you should definitely start by speaking to your union representative. In the absence of a union, you have several options, depending on the nature of your complaint.

Ministry of Labour (MOL) – If you have a complaint related to holiday pay, overtime pay, minimum wage, parental leave, or anything else covered by the Employment Standards Act (ESA), the MOL is the place to go. Generally, this is the quickest way to resolve the issue as the MOL will contact your employer on your behalf and require the company to respond to the allegations within a specific timeframe. However, an ESA complaint can cause animosity between you and your employer if you continue to be employed. As such, most ESA complaints are filed by ex-employees.
Of interest is the fact that the MOL publishes a list of Ontario companies that have been notified of their ESA violations and have yet to make the appropriate amends, and so have been fined.

Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario – This is the place to go if you have a human rights complaint and feel that you have been discriminated against or harassed, based on any of the prohibited grounds for discrimination named in the Human Rights Code. A word of caution here—this can be a very time time-consuming route, and you cannot concurrently seek retribution via this route and the ESA as the Tribunal has been known to dismiss complaints that are subject to another proceeding. Decisions of the Human Rights Tribunal are also available online.

Office of the Worker Advisor (OWA) – Non-unionized employees seeking assistance with workplace injuries and other Workplace Safety and Insurance Board WSIB matters can access free advice and representation from the OWA. In addition, as of April of this year, the OWA provides support to non-unionized workers who have been threatened or punished by their employers for following workplace health and safety laws or trying to enforce them.

Talk to a professional – HR professionals, paralegals, and lawyers may all be able to offer assistance if you find yourself in a tough employment situation. As opposed to the options above, engaging a professional will likely involve a cost, either by way of a retainer upfront or a portion of the monetary amount recovered. Ensure that you ask lots of questions and are completely comfortable with the terms of service before hiring an HR professional, paralegal, or lawyer.