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Hiring Students This Summer? The Ministry of Labour is Watching

Submitted By Firm: Sherrard Kuzz LLP

Contact(s): Erin Kuzz, Shana French


Matthew Badrov & Andrew Ebejer

Date Published: 4/25/2014

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Between May and August 2014, the Ontario Ministry of Labour (“MOL”) will perform a province-wide summer safety “blitz” of workplaces with young workers (aged 14 to 24) and/or new workers who have been in a job for less than six months. If a similar blitz last year is any indication, these inspections will most frequently occur in the manufacturing, municipal (e.g. parks and recreation), farming, retail, tourism/hospitality, long-term care home and food services industries.

MOL inspections can be intrusive, inconvenient and disruptive to daily operations. Inspections can also be expensive when they interrupt workflow or result in a stop work orders and, in some cases, a fine. To minimize these negative impacts, an employer should be aware of its obligations to new and young workers and take reasonable steps to prevent an accident at its workplace.

Old Enough to Work?

MOL inspectors will be on the lookout for underage workers. While the minimum working age in Ontario is 14 years for most types of work, regulations made under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (“OHSA”) have specified higher ages for certain types of work.

Type of Work                                                              Minimum Working Age

  • Stores, Offices or Arenas                                                            14
  • Factories or Repair Shops                                                           15
  • Logging Operations & Construction Projects                               16
  • Underground Mines & Window Cleaning                                     18

Every employer should ask its job applicants whether they have reached the age of 18. If an applicant is under the age of 18 it is then permissible to ask for their specific age. An application form is often the best way to inquire, since the applicant’s response will be preserved in writing.

Occupational Health and Safety

The OHSA requires an employer to take every reasonable precaution to ensure the protection of its workers, including young workers. This includes ensuring equipment is well maintained, and workers are properly instructed and supervised. Failure to protect workers can result in orders, significant fines and, in rare cases, imprisonment.

While the “every reasonable precaution” standard applies equally to all workers, special care should be taken to ensure new and young workers, who are less familiar with the workplace and industry, are provided with safety information, instruction and supervision both when they start a job and throughout the summer.

Potentially Higher Costs for Workplace Accidents Involving Students

Workplace accidents are sometimes unavoidable. If the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (“WSIB”) finds an injury to be compensable (i.e. it occurred “in the course of employment”), costs may be higher than usual when a student is injured. This is because the WSIB has a broad discretion to accept “[any] information considered appropriate” when assessing a student’s loss of earnings. For example, if the student’s injuries delay the completion of his or her education, the WSIB may reimburse any extra tuition payments or related expenses that are incurred. These additional claims will negatively affect the employer’s experience rating and can lead to a costly surcharge.

Unpaid Interns: The Hidden Costs of Free Labour

Unpaid internships have been the hot topic as of late. While a common way for students to gain summer workplace experience, the MOL is currently engaged in a blitz to shut down internship programs. The Employment Standards Act, 2000 (“ESA”) defines “employee” as including an individual who “receives training from a person who is an employer”; and an “employee” is entitled to be paid for work done. All of which means, as a general rule, an intern or trainee cannot legally provide services for free. There are limited exemptions under the ESA such as a secondary student performing work under a work experience program authorized by a school board and an individual who performs work under a program approved by a college of applied arts and technology or a university. In almost all other circumstances, an unpaid internship will be contrary to the ESA.

Closing Note

Summer is nearly here, and employers will be hiring student workers and interns to meet seasonal needs. Accompanying this seasonal recruitment is heightened MOL scrutiny. While there is no magic spell to keep the MOL at bay, there are steps an employer can and should take to prepare and minimize risk, including: 

  • Become familiar with its obligations under the OHSA and ESA.
  • Conduct an honest and thorough workplace self-audit to identify areas of risk.
  • Take preventative measures and/or corrective action before the MOL comes knocking.

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Altra Industrial Motion Inc.

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American University in Bulgaria

In my career I have been a practicing attorney, counsel to the Governor of Maine, and CEO of a major public utility. I have worked with many lawyers in many settings. When the American University in Bulgaria needed help with employment litigation in federal court in Syracuse, New York, we turned to Pierce Atwood, the ELA member we knew and trusted in Maine, for a referral. We were extremely pleased with the responsiveness and high quality of service we received from Bond Schoeneck & King, the ELA's firm in upstate New York. I would not hesitate to recommend the ELA to any employer.

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Arcata Associates

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I am familiar with several other products that purport to provide up-to- date employment law information and I believe that this resource is superior to other similar compliance manuals.  I am delighted that the ELA provides this free to its members' clients.

Boyd Coffee Company

Employment Law Alliance (ELA) has provided Boyd Coffee Company with a highly valued connection to resources, important information and learning. With complex operations and employees working in approximately 20 states, we are continually striving to keep abreast of specific state laws, many of which vary from state to state. We have participated in the ELA web seminars and have found the content very useful. We appreciate the ease, cost effectiveness and quality of the content and presenters offered by these web seminars.  The Global Employer Handbook has provided our company with a very helpful overview of legal issues in the various states in which we operate, and the network of attorneys has helped us manage issues that have arisen in states other than where our Roastery and corporate headquarters are located in Portland, Oregon.

Capgemini Outsourcing Services GmbH

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Hirschfeld Kraemer

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Hollywood Entertainment Corporation

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Konami Gaming

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Palm, Inc.

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Roberts-Gordon LLC

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