Today is May Day, or International Workers Day, and while the international labour movement’s goals of seizing the means of production and liberating the proletariat have not yet been fully realized, we have made great strides in protecting workers in Canada and elsewhere. So, in honour of International Workers’ Day, here is a rundown of your rights in Ontario as an employee.

  • Your health and safety are protected by the Occupational Health and Safety Act. You have the right to know about dangerous materials and equipment in your workplace. You should be trained in how to safely navigate these hazards. And you have the right to refuse unsafe work. You cannot be suspended, fired, or not get paid for refusing unsafe work.
  • You have the right to be free from harrassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identy, race, ancestry, place of origin, ethnic origin, citizenship, religion, sex, age, family or marital status, or disability. We are all equal under the law.
  • Ontario’s minimum wage is 11.40/hr, though there are exceptions if you’re under 18 or are serving alcohol (along with other exceptions). The full outline can be found here.
  • You have the right to statutory holidays. These are paid legal holidays. If you work on these days, you can take another paid day off instead, or you can be paid premium pay (often, but not always, 150% of your regular pay).
  • Employees are entitled to two weeks of vacation time every year. If you are not taking your vacation, you are entitled to “vacation pay”, or 4% of your pay, in lieu of time off.
  • You are entitled to pregnancy and parental leave. Pregnancy leave can be up to 17 week (unpaid), and parental leave is 35 (or 37) weeks off (unpaid). This means you cannot be fired for taking time off to care for your infants. While you’re not working you are eligible for benefits under the Employment Insurance Act.
  • You are entitled to personal emergency leave (sick days or personal days). If your employer has more than 49 employees, then you are entitled to these days (though most employers offer time off for illness).
  • If you are being terminated, you have rights even then. You are entilted to notice, or to be paid in lieu of notice.

You have rights. We know that it is often tempting to go along, to not make waves, and to not draw attention to yourself, especially if you are in a precarious situation financially. But please remeber that these laws (The Employment Standards Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Act) are there to protect you. Exercise your rights, and protect the rights of others.