At the end of last month, the Government of Ontario introduced Bill 177, otherwise known as the Stronger, Fairer Ontario Act (Budget Measures) 2017. One thing every employer should know is, the omnibus bill will amend dozens of separate statutes that are part of the provincial Occupational Health and Safety Act. That is a lot of very important changes. However, the most critical change for an employer will involve the increased potential fines.
For example, the allowable maximum fine for OHS violations is currently $500,000 per offense for corporations and $25,000 for individuals (along with a possible jail sentence of up to 12 months). These maximum fines have not changed for nearly 30 years, but Bill 177 increases them significantly, to $1.5 million for corporations and $100,000 for individuals. If the amendments become law, which most expect will happen, it is expected that the Ontario Ministry of Labour will argue for higher penalties.
Employers should also be aware that Bill 177 also provides Ministry of Labour prosecutors with greater flexibility in the number of alleged violations (or “counts”) they can include when laying charges. However, the bill will change the current law, which allows the Ministry of Labour to initiate charges within one year of the violation, to one year from the date the Ministry becomes aware of the alleged offense. This obviously won’t affect incidents that are reported in a timely manner, but for non-injury related allegations or violations that do not immediately come to the attention of the Ministry of Labour, there will no longer be a shield in place.