Jail Time for Employment Standards Violations in Ontario!

Picking up on a recent post by Prof. David Doorey on his blog, I thought this week that I’d highlight a recent decision by an Ontario court to sentence an employer (the director of the company) to 90 days in jail for repeatedly violating the Ontario Employment Standards Act (discussed also in the Huffington Post) He was also fined $280,000. In a press release, the Ministry of Labour explained as follows:

Between March 2007 and October 2009, 61 employees from six companies, operated by Blondin filed claims with the Ministry of Labour for unpaid wages. An investigation by the ministry found that wages were owed to all 61 employees. 

Between February 2008 and April 2010, an employment standards officer issued 113 orders to the six companies and Blondin to pay over $125,000. None of the orders were paid.

Personally, I think that willful and serious violations of the ESA should and must result in steep fines. Under Quebec law, in some cases, directors are personally liable for unpaid wages up to a limit. I am somewhat conflicted on the issue of jail time – it seems a harsh penalty, particularly if a business has gone bankrupt for “legitimate” reasons (that doesn’t seem to be the case in this particular issue). Is jail time appropriate in all cases? Do similar provisions exist in other provinces?

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Comments

  1. David Collier-Brown

    At long last!

    I’ve been concerned for a long time that directors could commit offences and then hide behind their corporation, letting it pay the fines for the offences that they carried out.

    Effectively, they have been buying immunity from anything save an explicitly criminal charge.

    That kind of purchasable immunity for the well-to-do is a terrible public policy, yet it seems to be universal across Canada and the United States. I’m exceedingly pleased to see a case in Canadian law that goes against this trend. Yay Canada!

    I expect it will be commented on widely, and discussed in terms of income disparity (“the 99%”), the U.S. effort to treat “corporations as people” and probably in terms of a number of other nasty public policies in our various jurisdictions.

    –dave (a philosopher, not a lawyer) c-b