Canadian Manufacturing

Workplace investigations in a manufacturing setting

by Lai-King Hum   

Human Resources Manufacturing Regulation criminal charges Manufacturing MOL OHSA Workplace investigations


Manufacturing employers need to understand workplace laws and determine if their business falls into the MOL category of targeted industries.

Abobe stock by NAMPIX.

As a manufacturing employer, receiving a notice of investigation from the Ministry of Labour, (MOL) can be a stressful and concerning situation. The MOL has the authority to investigate any workplace in Ontario to ensure compliance with the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA) and the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA).

The MOL conducts investigations for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Complaints: If an employee files a complaint about the workplace, the MOL will launch an investigation into the complaint. For example, the MOL may investigate a complaint related to the failure to pay overtime under the ESA. Another example is when the MOL investigates a complaint of an unsafe work environment under the OHSA. Similarly, a workplace violence and harassment complaints can also lead to a MOL investigation under the OHSA.
  • Accidents: Under the OHSA, employers have an obligation to notify the MOL when a critical injury or fatalityoccurs in their workplace. Once the incident is reported, an inspector will be dispatched to investigate the incident in the workplace.
  • Random inspections: Under either the ESA or OHSA, the MOL has the power to conduct random inspections of workplaces to ensure compliance with employment standards and workplace safety requirements without a warrant.
  • Targeted inspections: The MOL may target specific industries or workplaces that have a history of non-compliance with the OHSA. The MOL maintains a list of targeted industries that may change over time – sometimes due to an investigation. For example, if a hazard is identified during an investigation that may affect one particular industry, the MOL may issue a “Hazard Alert.”

Consequences of MOL investigations

Not responding to or mishandling investigations can lead to fines, compliance orders, and even criminal charges from the MOL.

Compliance orders must be followed to avoid penalties. If an employer owes overtime wages, they may be ordered to pay them plus 10 per cent administrative costs under the ESA. Employers may also face a penalty of up to $1,000 per employee and additional collection fees.

During an investigation under the OHSA, an inspector can issue a “Stop Work” Order, which halts all work at the site until the inspector determines that all workers are safe.

Criminal charges can have even more severe consequences.

Under the ESA, a conviction can result in a fine of up to $500,000 for an employer. Additionally, its directors may face a maximum fine of $50,000 and jail time upon conviction.

In 2022, Bill 88 made significant amendments to the OHSA, including increasing the amount of a fine against a convicted director or officer from $100,000 to $1.5 million, which matches the maximum fine applicable to a corporation. OHSA s.66(2.1) provides that convicted directors or officers may also be sentenced to imprisonment of up to 12 months.

Act immediately and properly

If you get an investigation notice from the MOL, act fast and cooperate. Keep in mind that MOL investigations can be complex, so engaging legal counsel in the early stages is advisable.

A lawyer can save you time and money by navigating complex processes, including responding to requests for information and inquiries, negotiating with MOL officials, and representing you in any legal proceedings that may arise.

Additionally, hiring a lawyer shows the MOL you take the investigation seriously and are committed to compliance. It can help build trust and lead to a better outcome.

Prevention is better than cure

It is equally essential to prevent MOL investigations. Manufacturing employers need to understand workplace laws and determine if their business falls into the MOL category of targeted industries. Hire a lawyer with expertise to ensure that your employment contracts and policies comply with laws and regulations, avoiding MOL investigations and allowing you to focus on your business.

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