Class Action Contract Worker Lawsuit filed in Ontario. | Author: Bram Lecker
Ontario Sees the First Class Action Contract Worker Lawsuit.
Seven thousand individuals filed a Class Action Contract Worker lawsuit against utilities retailer, Just Energy. They claim that this business unjustly enriched itself by classifying them as independent contractors when they were actually employees.
Early in 2016, we set a precedent with a similar case, representing Lawrence and Marilyn Keenan against their employer, Canac Kitchens. That ruling, without doubt, will have direct bearing upon this class action lawsuit.
Through the Keenan case, our lawyers helped clear up many fuzzy lines around the employment status of employees and contract workers. Canac Kitchens hired Lawrence and Marilyn Keenan as such “independent” contractors. But the judge who reviewed their circumstances actually found them to be quite “dependent” on their employer. We gave this status a name: Dependent Contractors, differentiating them from another class of contractors who are truly independent. The judge agreed and recognized them as employees. He consequently awarded them the highest ever compensation in Ontario for contract workers dismissed without severance.
It is noteworthy that we now hear the term Dependent Contractor used in the media. And our law makers are coming to terms with it. Since the Keenan ruling, there has been an unmistakable surge of similar cases coming through our courts. Distraught contractors, fired without notice suing for wrongful dismissal. And against them, their employers, vehemently defending their actions.
Employee or Contract Worker?
In this newly minted case, Haidar Omarali is one such employee. He worked for Just Energy for 18 months as a contract worker. The facts of his case are most noteworthy. Mr. Omarali claimed that Just Energy paid him wages amounting to $3.32 per hour. This is clearly well below our legal minimum wage. Company personnel trained him on what to say to customers in a prewritten script. They also supervised and disciplined him. And if that was not all, they required him to wear corporate branded clothing while on duty.
So is he a dependent employee, fully reliant on his employer to direct his work? Or an independent contractor who carries out his duties as his own boss and business owner? It seems like this class action lawsuit is, more or less, about those facts.
The Employment Standards Act 2000
As an employee, your employment is governed by the Employment Standards Act 2000. Under it, your employer must pay your EI, CPP and other employment benefits. And when they fire you, they must offer you adequate notice or severance.
During these times of high unemployment and precarious jobs, many Canadians find themselves employed as contractors. Well now we have clarity that there are, indeed, two types of contractors. Those that are dependent, like employees. And others who are independent. Our government has taken note and the ESA 2000 is being modernized. We fully expect to see the Dependent Contractor status recognized clearly and protected by law.
In conclusion, if you are unsure of your status as a contract worker, contact us. We understand the law extremely well in this matter. Our lawyers will review your circumstances and advise you of your rights.
Lecker & Associates exclusively represents employees of Ontario. Our Employee Rights Blog is frequently updated with information to assist you. We encourage you to visit regularly. If you enjoyed this article, please consider sharing it.