Does Your Employment Agreement Comply With The ESA?

Does Your Employment Agreement Comply With the ESA?

An employment agreement serves as a foundational document that outlines the terms and conditions of the employer-employee relationship. In Ontario, it is essential to recognize that while an employment agreement can provide additional details and specific arrangements tailored to the needs of both parties, it must fundamentally align with the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA). The ESA sets forth a framework of minimum employment standards that safeguard the rights and entitlements of employees across various aspects of their work. In the vast majority of cases, an employment agreement must adhere to these statutory requirements, ensuring that employees are provided with the fundamental protections and benefits guaranteed by the law.

Does the ESA apply to all employees? 

The short answer is “no.” In Ontario, the Employment Standards Act (ESA)  generally applies to most employees, including full-time, part-time, temporary, and seasonal workers. However, there are specific exemptions for certain types of employees, such as independent contractors, certain professionals, and certain types of agricultural workers.

Exemptions for Professionals

Professionals who are typically exempt from certain provisions of the Employment Standards Act (ESA) in Ontario include:

  • Doctors and Dentists
  • Lawyers
  • Architects
  • Veterinarians
  • Chiropractors
  • Optometrists
  • Psychologists
  • Engineers

You need to be aware that these exemptions might not apply to all aspects of the ESA, and certain provisions might still apply to these professionals.

Exemptions for Agricultural Workers

Certain agricultural employees are exempt from some of the standard employment rules. The exemptions can vary based on factors such as the type of agricultural work and the nature of employment. Here are some categories of agricultural employees that might be exempt from certain ESA provisions:

  • Farm Owners and Family Members
  • Seasonal Agricultural Workers
  • Piece-Rate Workers
  • Farm Managers and Supervisors

While there are exemptions for certain agricultural employees, not all aspects of employment regulations are exempt. For instance, health and safety regulations and protection against harassment and discrimination are generally not subject to exemptions.

Employees Under Federal Jurisdiction

It is important to note that some industries and employees fall under provincial jurisdiction and are covered by provincial labor laws, while others are covered by the federal Canadian Labour Code.

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What rights and entitlements are governed by the ESA? 

The Employment Standards Act (ESA) in Ontario governs a wide range of rights and entitlements for employees. Here are some key areas covered by the ESA:

  • Minimum Wage: The ESA sets out the minimum wage that employers must pay to their employees.
  • Tips and Gratuities: The ESA addresses rules related to tips and gratuities received by employees, including how they are distributed and accounted for.
  • Hours of Work: It regulates the maximum number of hours an employee can work in a day and in a week.
  • Overtime: The ESA specifies the rules for overtime pay, including when it applies and the rate of pay for overtime hours.
  • Breaks and Rest Periods: It outlines rules for meal breaks, rest periods, and daily rest between shifts.
  • Vacation: The ESA establishes entitlements for paid vacation time and vacation pay based on an employee’s length of service.
  • Public Holidays: It provides rules for paid public holidays and holiday pay.
  • Termination and Severance: The ESA defines rules for termination notice or pay in lieu of notice, as well as severance pay for certain employees.
  • Parental Leave: It grants eligible employees the right to take unpaid parental leave for the birth or adoption of a child.
  • Personal Emergency Leave: Employees are entitled to unpaid leave for specific personal emergencies.
  • Family Medical Leave: Employees can take unpaid leave to care for a seriously ill family member.
  • Pregnancy and Parental Leave: The ESA outlines provisions for pregnancy and parental leave, including job protection.
  • Equal Pay for Equal Work: It ensures that employees are paid the same rate for the same job, regardless of gender.
  • Termination of Employment: The ESA regulates the termination of employment and employee rights upon termination.
  • Severance Pay: Certain employees are entitled to severance pay upon termination, based on their length of service and the size of the employer’s workforce.
  • Anti-Reprisal Measures: The ESA protects employees from reprisals or retaliation for asserting their rights under the act.
  • Record-Keeping: Employers are required to maintain records related to employee wages, hours of work, and other relevant information.

These are just some of the key areas covered by the ESA. It’s important to note that the ESA can be complex and subject to updates and changes.

Related Reading

Can an Employer Rescind a Job Offer in Ontario?

Leave of Absence in Ontario: Explained

Vacation Pay in Ontario Explained

Overtime Pay in Ontario Explained

Is it possible for an employer to contract out of the ESA?

No. Our courts in Ontario have determined that attempting to expressly contract out of the ESA is illegal. It is a very important principle of employment law that every employment agreement, whether written or verbal, must provide all of the minimum benefits and standards contained in the ESA. Employers who attempt to contract out of the ESA may receive claims for wrongful dismissal, complaints by employees to the Ministry of Labour, and other issues. A contract that opts out of the ESA will also have issues with its enforceability and validity. In short, trying to opt out of the ESA is a dangerous practice.

Contact us today to schedule a consultation with our Experienced Employment Lawyers

Contact us by phone toll-free at 1-800-771-7882 or email us at [email protected], and we will be happy to assist.

When Should I Consult an Employment Lawyer About My Employment Agreement

You should consider contacting an employment lawyer about your employment agreement in the following situations:

  • Reviewing a New Employment Agreement: If you’ve been offered a new job and are presented with an employment agreement, it’s a good idea to consult an employment lawyer before signing. They can help you understand the terms and implications of the agreement, negotiate any terms that might be unfavorable, and ensure that your rights are protected.
  • Terms and Conditions are Unclear: If the language or terms in your employment agreement are unclear, vague, or difficult to understand, an employment lawyer can provide clarity and help you interpret the terms accurately.
  • Non-Compete or Non-Solicitation Clauses: If your employment agreement contains non-compete or non-solicitation clauses, it’s important to understand the scope and impact of these clauses on your future job prospects. An employment lawyer can advise you on the enforceability of these clauses and their potential consequences.
  • Complicated Compensation Structure: If your compensation structure involves elements like bonuses, commissions, stock options, or other complex incentives, an employment lawyer can help you ensure that the agreement accurately reflects these terms and that you fully understand how they work.
  • Changes to Employment Terms: If your employer proposes changes to your existing employment agreement, especially substantial changes, it’s wise to consult an employment lawyer to assess the implications of these changes on your rights and obligations.
  • Disputes or Breach of Agreement: If you believe your employer has breached the terms of the employment agreement or if you’re facing a dispute related to the agreement, an employment lawyer can advise you on your options and potential remedies.
  • Termination or Severance: If you’re being terminated from your job and your employment agreement outlines severance terms, an employment lawyer can help you understand whether the terms are fair and whether you’re entitled to additional compensation.
  • Discrimination or Harassment Concerns: If you have concerns about discriminatory or harassing clauses in your agreement or if you’ve experienced discrimination or harassment at work, an employment lawyer can guide you on your rights and potential legal actions.
  • Legal Complexities: If you believe your employment agreement involves legal complexities that you’re not familiar with, such as international employment agreements or agreements with unique industry-specific terms, an employment lawyer with expertise in those areas can provide valuable insights.

Whether you are an employee or an employer, it is a good practice to consult an employment lawyer whenever you have questions, concerns, or uncertainties about your employment agreement. They can provide tailored advice based on your specific circumstances and help ensure that your rights are protected.


The Employment Standards Act (ESA) in Ontario is a comprehensive legislation that outlines the minimum employment standards and rights for employees in the province. It governs various aspects of the employer-employee relationship to ensure fair and equitable treatment. When considering an employment agreement, it’s important to understand how the ESA comes into play.