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Complaints to the Ministry of Labour May Reduce Damages

When a workplace issue arises, employees can choose different avenues when it comes to getting help. While most avenues are helpful in some form, some offer greater benefits than others. For an employment issue concerning non-unionized employees, two options available to employees are either to retain a legal professional, or to make a complaint with the Ministry of Labour (“MOL”).

However, there are some significant differences.

MOL representatives are not trained legal professionals whose interest is to serve the employee’s best interest and to obtain the highest amount possible for their case. Instead, the MOL is there to enforce compliance with statutes.

The MOL is also limited with respect to the type of issues it can resolve. More importantly, the remedy that an employee can receive from the MOL is extremely limited. In fact, the MOL typically deals with employment minimum standards—the amount employees would be entitled to in any event—but not more than the minimum. 

As a result, retaining a legal professional will generally provides greater options and entitlements.

Complaining to the Ministry of Labour

The MOL is a provincial body that promotes labour relations through the Labour Relations Act, ensures compliance with the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act, and is where employees make their complaints with respect to the Employment Standards Act, 2000  (“ESA”). The scope of the MOL remains within these statutes.

The MOL ensures that employers comply with the mandated minimum employment standards. This is mainly done reactively rather than proactively, often after the MOL receives a complaint from an employee.

Given that the MOL only deals with minimum standards when it comes to employment matters, an employee who makes a complaint to the MOL may lose out on a significant amount of money—often tens of thousands of dollars.

This is for two reasons:

  1. Once an employee starts a complaint with the MOL and does not withdraw it in time, the employee is barred from making a civil claim regarding the same subject matter.
  2. The MOL cannot provide remedies beyond its scope.

Specifically, the MOL cannot and will not look at damages involving human rights, torts, mental distress, or the common law, which typically come up in workplace matters. As such, an employee who makes a complaint with the MOL will not receive these damages from the MOL, and can be barred altogether from bringing a civil claim where the issues overlap.

Hiring a Legal Professional

Legal professionals can assist and protect their clients—whether employees or employers—with respect to all areas of their workplace matters, with an eye to obtaining the most in terms of their clients’ best interests.

For example, an employee who seeks to hire a legal professional, depending on the facts of their matter, may be able to obtain damages for discrimination, intentional infliction of mental suffering, and wrongful or constructive dismissal under common law principles, which far surpass the entitlements provided for under the ESA. A legal professional can also assist with obtain aggravated and punitive damages.

These types of damages can easily add up and provide the client with tens of thousands (and in some cases, hundreds of thousands) of dollars more in their pocket than if the employee had chosen to make an MOL complaint instead.

Legal professionals can assist with laws beyond mere statute, whereas the MOL’s scope is limited to the three statutes listed above. As a result, legal professionals can be more creative in terms of the types of remedies they can obtain for their client, and can provide a more fulsome picture as to the rights, obligations, and issues involved.


Employees should remember that commencing a complaint with the MOL will bar them from bringing a civil claim, where they could obtain a great deal more money. This is particularly true where the MOL complaint is not withdrawn in time. Therefore, it is best that employees seek the advice of a legal professional as soon as there is a workplace issue.

Even if an employee has commenced an MOL complaint, they should still seek legal advice to see whether a legal professional can still assist, including for areas such as withdrawing the complaint or appealing an MOL decision.

Contact Us for Help

If you are an employer or an employee wanting to know more about your rights and obligations, our team of experienced employment and human rights lawyers can help. Contact us at 1 (800) 771-7882, or email [email protected], and we would be happy to assist.

If you are a small or medium-sized company looking for full-service support, visit our CLO program page for our strategic solutions.


Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to serve as, or should be construed as legal advice, and is only to provide general information. It is in no way particular to your case and should not be relied on in any way. No portion or use of this blog will establish a lawyer-client relationship with the author or any related party. Should you require legal advice for your particular situation, fill out the contact form, call 1-(800)771-7882, or email [email protected].