Labour Laws vs Employment Law

Labour Laws vs Employment Law - What’s the Difference?

Labour Laws Ontario

Labour laws in Ontario usually refer to those laws that apply to unionized employment. Employees in a union have greater bargaining power because they collectively bargain with the employer regarding the terms and conditions of employment. Between every union and employer, there is one contract of employment that governs over all employees in that union. This contract is called the collective agreement. One of the main advantages of being in a union is that employees usually cannot be terminated without cause. In other words, employers can only fire an employee for cause.

Seniority - how long an employee has worked - also has greater implications for a unionized employee, including when it comes to layoffs and promotions.

Disputes in labour law also are handled differently. When there is a disagreement between the union and an employer, the collective agreement will stipulate how disputes are to be handled. These are usually done through the grievance and arbitration processes. Union-employer disputes are not handled through the courts. Discrimination of an employee’s human rights can also be handled through grievance and arbitration. However, these types of disputes can also go to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal.

Legal representation of employees in a union must be handled by the union. They cannot usually hire outside lawyers. Two situations that unionized employees can hire outside counsel is when they sue their union for unfair representation or sue their employer (and/or union) for discrimination at the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal.

The main Ontario labour law is the Ontario Labour Relations Act. The Ontario Human Rights Code, Employment Standards Act, and Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) also apply to unionized employees.

There are many benefits (and disadvantages) for being in a union.

Employment Law Ontario

For all other Ontario-regulated employees who are not in a union, employment laws apply to you. One of the biggest differences is that each individual employee will have a separate employment contract with their employer. Employers can also terminate an employee for any reason, or no reason at all, provided that it is not illegal (e.g. discrimination) and they provide enough severance.

Any dispute between the employer and employee can go through a variety of processes. For example, an employee can do the following:

  • file a complaint with the Ministry of Labour for violations of the Employment Standards Act

  • sue their employer at the labour board, known as the Ontario Labour Relations Board, for retaliating, punishing, or reprising against them for complaining about harassment;

  • sue their employer at the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal for discrimination; and

  • sue their employer at an Ontario court for constructive dismissal, wrongful dismissal, terminations without providing sufficient pay, harassment, discrimination, and bad faith treatment.

The Ontario Human Rights Code, Employment Standards Act, and Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) all are relevant employment laws. Further the common law - what judges and courts have decided over the years - also apply to individual contracts of employment.