Changes to Employment Standards
On October 31, 1996, Bill 49 was passed in the Ontario legislature. The Bill makes extensive changes to the Employment Standards Act. For unionized employees, the most significant change is that, under most circumstances, they will be denied the right to make a complaint regarding their employer's breach of the Act. Instead, unions will be responsible for bringing claims on their members' behalf, and will be require to enforce the Act through the arbitration process under their collective agreements. The cost of administering the Act will therefore be shifted from the Ministry of Labour to unions and employers. For non-unionized employees, Bill 49 introduces a $10,000 cap on the amount of money that can be recovered under the Act, permits the government to establish a minimum threshold below which claims will not be prosecuted, and requires employees to choose between making a complaint under the Act and initiating a civil law suit against their employer.
Creditor-Proofing Pension Funds
Pension funds have traditionally been shielded from claims made by their members' creditors, but the protection afforded to pension assets has begun to erode with the emergence of new pension standards legislation in several provinces. Pension benefits are becoming increasingly vulnerable to the claims of creditors, such as a plan members' former spouse who is owed support.
Same Sex Benefits
In the wake of a decision by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, Revenue Canada recently announced a change in its interpretation of the Income Tax Act. Employers will now be permitted to provide insured health and dental benefits to the same-sex spouses of their employees without incurring any negative tax consequences. Previously, benefits paid to an employee in respect of their same-sex partner wer4e treated as taxable income, whereas benefits paid in respect of opposite-sex partners was exempt. Revenue Canada's change in policy eliminates the excuse most commonly cited by employers who refuse to provide same-sex spousal coverage in their group insurance plans.