Thursday, June 28, 2012

What Young Workers Should Know

Arnold is 16 years old.  He is a full time student in high school, but he wanted to earn some money in the last Christmas break. He applied to different restaurants, hotels and stores to get a job. Finally, he was hired as a server in a Mediterranean restaurant during his December break from school.  This restaurant does not serve alcohol.

Initially, his boss said to him that the wage for his job would be $8.50 per hour. He could also earn tips, but they would be part of his minimum wage amount.

He worked six hours per day and he usually took thirty minutes for his lunch break. One week after Arnold started working, the manager said to him that the student employees were only allowed to take fifteen minutes for lunch break.

Although Arnold felt that his job conditions were not fair, he continued working on the weekends after Christmas break. However, he has not received his wages from April and May.

Arnold does not know if there is a law that regulates this issue.  He wants to know if the labor conditions in his job are fair, and if he will be able to recover his wages for the months of April and May.


The Employment Standards Act (ESA) sets out the rights and responsibilities of both employees and employers in Ontario workplaces.

Young workers have the same rights as other employees in most Ontario workplaces under the ESA.  It is important to know that the minimum age for working in Ontario is 14 years in most types of workplaces.

Regulations specify higher minimum ages for certain types of work and workplaces. For example, working in the kitchen at a restaurant requires you to be at least fifteen years old.  You also have to be at least fifteen to work in laundries, shipping and receiving areas in grocery stores, automotive service garages, produce and meat preparation areas and warehouses.

Was Arnold receiving a legal wage in his job?

Minimum wage is the lowest hourly wage an employer can pay employees, whether they are full-time or part-time.

No matter how they are paid, employers must pay most employees, including young workers, at least the minimum wage. Tips or gratuities are not considered wages and will not be considered in determining whether an employee is receiving at least minimum wage.  This means that Arnold’s boss was breaking the law if he deducted Arnold’s tips from his minimum wage.

The minimum wage rate for a certain job can depend on what kind of work an employee is doing and how old the employee is.  In Ontario, there is a general minimum wage rate that applies to most employees.  

There is also a student minimum wage rate that applies to many students under the age of 18.
Students must be paid at least the student minimum wage if they are under 18 and they:
  • work no more than 28 hours a week when school is in session, or
  • work during a school holiday (for example, March break, Christmas break, summer holidays)
Students who work more than 28 hours a week when school is in session are entitled to the general minimum wage.

General minimum wage rate is $10.25 per hour.

Student minimum wage rate is $9.60 per hour. This is Arnold´s situation and this is the minimum amount he should be paid for each hour he works at the restaurant.
There are some exceptions to the minimum wage requirements.  For example:
  • If you are participating in a high school “co-op” or work experience program authorized by the school board that operates your school
  • If you are a college or university student performing work through your school program
  • If you are training for certain occupations such as architecture, law, professional engineering, medicine, optometry
  • If you are a student employed to instruct or supervise children and a person employed as a student at a camp for children (like a camp counselor)
How much time can Arnold take for lunch?

Most employees, including young workers, may not work longer than five hours in a row without getting a 30-minute eating period. If Arnold and his employer agree, the 30-minute eating period may be taken as two breaks within each five-consecutive-hour work period.  Meal breaks are usually unpaid.
If Arnold is working a shift that is less than five hours long, he does not have to receive any lunch break.  So, for example, if he works a “split” from 11 am until 3 pm and then from 5 pm until 8 pm, he does not have to receive a lunch break.

How can Arnold get his pay from April and May?

Since Arnold’s boss violated the Employment Standards Act, Arnold can contact the Ministry of Labour to file a complaint.  Arnold can start this process by contacting the Employment Standards Information Centre at 416-326-7160 or 1-800-531-5551.  They will be able to give him information about the Employment Standards Act and filing a complaint.  In the complaint process, his complaint will be investigated, and his employer can be ordered to pay him wages.  Arnold should keep evidence that he worked during this time and that his employer didn't pay him.  An example of evidence would be a copy of a time sheet where he signed in and out, or an email giving him his work schedule for the week.

If Arnold decides to file a complaint, he must do this within 6 months of the date he was supposed to be paid.  So, for pay he should have received on March 14, he must file his complaint by September 14.   Sometimes, this 6 month period can be extended if an employer violated the act multiple times, but at least one of those times happened in the past six months.

For more information about the rights and rules on young workers, check out this website from the Ministry of Labour.

This post was written by PLE Team volunteers Lina Maria Sanchez (a Columbian lawyer who has recently come to Canada) and UofT law student Leora Jackson. Legal info was reviewed by JFCY. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Video: Leaving Home

Check out this new video that deals with legal issues that can arise when youth leave home.  

Click on the link below to learn about the legal and practical issues that Terence must consider as he decides whether to leave home and live on his own at the age of 16. 

To read more about leaving home legal issues in Ontario, check out this JFCY pamphlet, as well as our past blog posts here and here.

A special thanks to the volunteers from the YouTube Subcommitte of the PLE Team for their efforts in making this video: Arif, Terence, Lucas, Tracy, Cydney, and Chrsitine, as well as JFCY staff lawyer Andrea.

To view the JFCY YouTube channel click here.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Looking for rental housing - Human Rights and Residential Tenancies


When Lukie was 16, she moved out of her mother’s home, where she had been experiencing abuse.  While she spent a couple of months staying with her friend Brian’s family, she was soon ready to move out on her own, and she began looking for a place.  Lukie qualified to receive Ontario Works, which is social assistance that can be available to youth in special circumstances, and she has now begun to receive monthly cheques.  She is also looking for work. (Check out our earlier post about leaving home here.)

What important things should Lukie know when she looks for a place?  Can a landlord refuse to rent to Lukie because she is only 16, or because she is receiving money from Ontario Works?

Protection against discrimination in housing: Ontario’s Human Rights Code
Ontario’s Human Rights Code is a law that makes it illegal to discriminate against an individual based on certain grounds.  In plainer language, this means that in certain areas (like housing, or education), a person cannot be refused services or treated badly just because of certain characteristics relating to their identity.  These characteristics, or “grounds” include things like age, race, and disability.
When Lukie is searching for a place to live, she is protected against discrimination by the Code.  Usually, the Code only applies to people who are 18 or older.  However, in the case of housing, it also extends to people who are 16 or older and who are not living with their parents.  This means that landlords can’t treat her application differently or refuse to rent to her because she’s too young, and they think she’ll be too noisy or not clean enough because of her age.  The Code also forbids landlords from treating tenants or potential tenants differently because they are on social assistance, like Ontario Works.

The landlord is allowed to ask Lukie some questions in order to decide if she will be a good tenant, like her rental history or credit references.  However, the fact that Lukie has no rental history shouldn’t count against her.  Rent-to-income ratios (how much the rent is compared to how much Lukie earns each month) cannot be used to decide whether Lukie will be accepted as a tenant.  The landlord can also ask for a guarantor on Lukie’s lease.  This is a person who promises to pay the rent if Lukie can’t afford it.  However, the landlord can only ask for a guarantor if they ask all of their tenants for one – they can’t single out Lukie because of her age or how much money she makes.

Once Lukie has rented an apartment, she is also protected by the Code.  The landlord can’t refuse to do repairs and can’t treat her unfairly just because she is young.  The only exception to this is that the Code doesn’t apply to tenants who are sharing a kitchen or a bathroom with the landlord – Lukie should watch out for this when she is looking for a place.

To learn more about Human Rights and Rental Housing, check out the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s ELearning module.

Legal Protection of Tenants: the Residential Tenancies Act
In addition to human rights protection, when Lukie rents an apartment, she will become a tenant.  Tenants are protected by a law called the Residential Tenancies Act.  This Act contains rules about what rights and responsibilities both landlords and tenants have in relation to rental units (like apartments).  These rules can become very important to Lukie if, for example, she has a major repair problem in her apartment and the landlord refuses to fix it, or if the landlord is trying to raise the rent more than once a year.

Most rental units are covered by the Residential Tenancies Act.  However, some are not.  When Lukie is looking for a unit, she should think about whether her unit is covered by the Act.  Places that aren’t covered by the Act include co-op housing, units where the landlord and tenant share a bathroom or kitchen and temporary housing like motels or bed & breakfasts.  If Lukie sublets an apartment, which means that she rents it from another tenant, her relationship will be with the other tenant and not with the original landlord.  This could make her protection under the Act more complicated.  If Lukie moves into non-profit or public housing, or to a newer building (built after 1998, or not used for residential purposes before 1991), some of the rules in the Act about rent do not apply to her.

To learn more about the Residential Tenancies Act, check out this information from the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB).  To learn more about the rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants, read their Information for New Tenants.  You can also learn more about rental housing from this guide by CLEO.

This blog post was written by JFCY volunteer Leora Jackson.  Leora is a UofT law student who is currently working for the summer at Downtown Legal Services, where she represents clients in cases involving rental housing legal issues.