Big fines are looming for Ontario employers who discriminate against parental leave — or pay women less

A recent announcement from the Government of Ontario could lead to some pretty significant changes for women at work, so we wanted to take a look at what that could mean for you. 

In early May, the government released its latest proposed changes to the Employment Standards Act (ESA) — the laws which set minimum standards for workplaces in Ontario.

The announcement laid out a plan to increase the maximum fine for an ESA violation from $50,000 to $100,000 — the highest level in the country. While that is a significant move, the language used in the announcement caught our attention — and the attention of women online. 

While the increased fines would apply to any ESA violation, the release explicitly called out employers who show preferential treatment based on gender in the workplace.  

Penalizing employees for taking pregnancy or parental leave and paying employees unequally for equal work based on gender were two of the prominent violations listed. 

Many online are celebrating the announcement as a move toward systemic change, with several women taking to LinkedIn to share their thoughts on a more equitable workplace. 

While it’s hard to imagine cases like this still exist in 2024, in reality, they do, and they can sometimes be hard to spot. 

Many women — and men — have returned to work post-parental leave to find their work handed off to new hires. Likewise, pay transparency and pay equity continue to be contentious issues, with there being no way to know if a male counterpart is earning more than you unless that is disclosed.   

commentary on changes coming for Ontario employers

So, what does this all mean?

The announcement of harsher ESA fines shines a light on the issue of employee rights in the province and aims to be a strong deterrent for exploitative employers. 

By openly discussing and calling out gender-based discrimination in the workplace, it could also encourage women to come forward with complaints and help them to spot a violation when it’s happening.

The government is looking to increase fines for repeat offenders — an employer that has violated the same law three or more times — as well, raising the penalty for that from $1,000 to $5,000. 

As Minister of Labour David Piccini said, the proposed legislation will send “a clear message to those bad actor employers out there” by doubling the fines associated with an ESA violation. 

“We know that the vast majority of employers across Ontario are doing right by their staff and customers and helping drive the economic prosperity of our province,” he said. “But with today’s announcement, we are sending a clear message to those bad actor employers out there that there are real consequences for bad behaviour.” 

You can read the full announcement from the government here!