Well-attended employment law overview concludes popular lecture series
Almost every seat at the Picton Town Hall was full Tuesday afternoon for the last Winter Survival Workshop of 2019, an overview on Ontario’s Employment Standards Act (ESA).
The workshop series is a partnership between the Small Business Centre’s Prince Edward County satellite office, the County’s community development partners, and Community Futures for Prince Edward-Lennox and Addington to help local businesses with off-season training.
Tuesday’s topic was particularly timely as Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government overhauled the ESA during its last year in office, then Doug Ford’s Conservatives made a round of changes of their own — some reversing the previous changes about a year later.
“There have been some changes,” said Chantal Gubinczki-Young, an employment standards officer at the Kingston office of the Ministry of Labour who led the overview. “We’ve had a lot of requests for our education and outreach presentations.”
While some might have expected Gubinczki-Young to simply highlight the recent changes to the act, she said her process for the sessions is to detail every aspect of the legislation that might impact on local business owners and their employees.
“We find if we focus on the changes that have occurred in the act, we’re not talking about things that have potentially been in the act for a long time and that people are not aware of,” she said. “The presentation will span things such as overtime pay, public holiday pay, vacation time and vacation pay.”
Gubinczki-Young was thorough in her approach and in explaining minimum standards for hours of work and rest, as well as stickier subjects like record keeping, discipline, and termination.
One bit of advice she had for employers was to always communicate policies and agreements in writing and encourage staff to sign off that they understand their terms of employment. When in doubt, she said they should refer directly to the ESA and seek clarification from the ministry.
Another point of emphasis was ensuring all workplaces post the current version of the Fair at Work Ontario poster and hand one to each worker. For years, Gubinczki-Young said, the Province didn’t alter the poster, but there have been two changes recently, making Version 8 the current edition.
The employment standards officer also stressed the 1-800-531-5551 line that employers and employees can call with questions about ESA rights and standards.
“Whenever we go through changes we have people inquiring about how their rights may change and others inquiring about how they stay in compliance,” she said. The speaker also provided a series of useful handouts, including one that shared a link to ontario.ca/esatools, a site that helps employers understand provisions in the ESA.
In a day with snow squalls and some heavy accumulation, she was pleased with the audience on hand.
“This is a really wonderful turnout. It’s great to see so many people out — especially when it’s such a winter challenging day — interested in making sure they’re in compliance.”
Overall, the three-month Winter Survival Workshops exceeded its attendance targets in its four subject areas — skill building in financial and data management, information sharing on government regulations, building capacity, and a special primer on PARO Lending Circles for Women. In 12 events with a goal of 254 attendees, 291 attended and some remained on a waiting list.
“I think this was our best year ever,” said Small Business Centre consultant Sandy Abbott. “The range of topics and the quality of speakers were really impressive. Post-workshop evaluations were very positive.”
Community Futures social finance specialist Trevor Brooks added the workshops position businesses to be ready for their busy season by providing tools and knowledge they need to succeed. That support, he said, is “the first step to creating opportunity and jobs.”
Neil Carbone, the County’s director of community development and strategic said the support for entrepreneurs achieved through the partnership has allowed those businesses to continue to thrive in the county. He said he hopes the productive relationship will continue for years to come.