About Justice at Work

About [email protected]
About our sponsors

[email protected]

[email protected] is the name of an Ontario employment law practice dedicated to serving low-income and disadvantaged workers across Ontario. Sponsored by the Community Legal Clinic - Simcoe, Haliburton, Kawartha Lakes and the Law Foundation of Ontario, [email protected] seeks to educate and empower workers to protect and enforce their legal rights in the workplace.

About [email protected]

[email protected] is now accepting low-income clients who have been wrongfully dismissed, constructively dismissed, unfairly denied severance pay, exposed to a job related health or safety hazard, or been the victim of discrimination or harassment in the workplace.

Through vigorous advocacy and the enforcement of workers' rights, we aim to affect a culture shift by developing new case law which in turn will benefit the working poor. By servicing the overwhelmingly greatest number of employment law clients in the Legal Aid Ontario clinic system, [email protected] seeks to identify potential test cases. [email protected] advocates will advance cases in court, instead of with the Ministry of Labour pursuant to the Employment Standards Act (ESA). Employee plaintiffs are routinely granted higher awards than claimants under the ESA.

[email protected] provides employment law services to low income workers across Ontario, but will sometimes refer clients to legal clinics in their community.. The program employs lawyers and community legal workers to provide legal advice and representation before courts and tribunals.

Our Mission

[email protected] is dedicated to alleviating poverty by providing legal assistance to low income workers -- breaking the descent into poverty often experienced in the event of a job loss.

[email protected] aims to protect and enforce workers rights, creating safe, fair and equitable workplaces across Ontario.

[email protected] is committed to empowering workers through education, outreach, advice, brief service and full representation before dispute resolution bodies.

[email protected] seeks to create worker-friendly law by presenting employee claims in court.

Why we do it

The workforce continues to change with few built-in mechanisms through which workers can protect themselves:

  • Living wages and full-time permanent positions are vanishing and being replaced with temporary, part-time and contract work where workers have lower wages, poor working conditions and less job security
  • Workers are increasingly vulnerable to workplace abuse; and women, youth and ethnic minorities are over-represented in workplace discrimination and harassment
  • The trend towards non-unionized workplaces has left workers with little job security and no benefits

Enforcing workers rights and empowering workers often requires legal representation. Legal advocacy enables the voices of workers to be heard in courts and tribunals thereby influencing the development of law. Successful advocacy can have a major impact on the lives of workers and on how employers operate, resulting in fair severance for workers and leading to internal policy changes of employers.

Why legal assistance in the workplace is necessary

Without enforcement, workers' legal rights are illusory. [email protected] is the only legal service available to all low-income Ontarians who wish to enforce their workplace rights. And it is the only service that engages the court system as its primary means of achieving justice and law reform.

Legal Aid Ontario does not provide funding to private employment lawyers for poor clients. Traditionally, clinics that practice employment law limit their assistance to filing complaints under the Employment Standards Act and/or political advocacy.

Assisting the working poor with employment law disputes is critical to the alleviation of poverty. Studies conducted in Canada and United Kingdom indicate that a lack of legal assistance to the working poor has a cascading and negative effect throughout all aspects of the client's life. This is because unresolved legal issues often trigger further problems including mental and physical health ailments, social exclusion, dependence on social assistance and relationship breakdown.

The realities of the global economy have caused a significant decline in the number of middle-class manufacturing jobs available in Ontario. These tend to have been replaced by new jobs in the service sector, which are less secure and lower paying. In order to cut costs, large employers have moved away from full-time career jobs to part-time, contracted and temporary workers. Also the percentage of workers in union jobs has fallen steadily.

Among the homeless, women, youth and visible minorities, the need for representation with employment problems is experienced at even higher rates. These workers are particularly vulnerable to workplace abuses.

Regulatory agencies have difficulty enforcing the protections afforded by the Employment Standards Act ("ESA"). Also ESA remedies are inadequate compared to those obtainable in court - i.e. a worker due only 8 weeks of termination pay under the ESA is often able to win 8 months of termination pay in court.

By resolving disputes in court, [email protected] is obtaining richer awards for poor workers who would otherwise be denied access to justice while also creating valuable legal precedents.

The impact of our work

Less than a year old, [email protected] is already hard at work. Statitically, its practice makes up a majority of the wrongful dismissal case files opened by Ontario's 80 legal clinics. Since its inception in the late summer of 2007, [email protected] has served hundreds of low-income workers.

Our advocacy model

Employment Standards Act vs. the Common Law

Critical to our advocacy model is the operation of common law. In Canada judges are bound by interpretations of the law made by other judges. When there is no authoritative statement of the law to apply to a particular case, judges have the authority and duty to make law by issuing reasons for judgment, which set out the legal rule they have applied to the case before the court and other subsequent like cases.

[email protected] has a policy of pursuing remedies in court because recourse to court generally nets significantly richer awards for our clients than decisions under the administrative regime set out by the Employment Standards Act. Critically, administrative ESA decisions do not change the law because they are not legally binding on other decision makers. In contrast, Court decisions do become part of the common law affecting all employers and employees. For this reason the culture change and evolution of public policy inherent in decisions won in court are absent from remedies obtained under the Employment Standards Act.

A Three Stage Advocacy Model

Stage 1

Issue Identification and Law Reform by Enforcement
A large and diverse caseload enables the clinic's litigation team to identify trends, systemic problems and cases important to particularly large or vulnerable groups. For example, the program has recently turned its attention to the recurring challenge poised by employers who seek to evade legal obligations to their employees by entering into consecutive short-term contracts for service. Because of the clinic's case volume, the litigation team can better identify the nature and prevalence of such injustices as well as those cases best suited to the high level of service necessary for complex trial advocacy

Much of the common law to-date has been crafted in the context of disputes between middle to high income employees and their employers. Not surprisingly, low-income employees rarely litigate, so the courts have had little opportunity to craft decisions on facts unique to the working poor. For example, should special damages be awarded when a poor single parent worker is wrongfully dismissed triggering a downward spiral into greater poverty? In this manner, the court-focused nature of [email protected] aims to dramatically shift the development of the common law in favour of the working poor by bringing their legal concerns before the courts. Where a merited complaint exists, the program aims to present the matter to court, if feasible. This is because every judicial decision has the capacity to shape the law by interpreting legislation and past court decisions in light of the circumstances of the case.

Stage 2

Strategic Coordination of Like Clients and Issues
At the second stage of the advocacy model, more difficult cases and those affecting large numbers of employees who have similar discreet issues are referred to the Clinic's litigation team for resolution. Litigation team cases are resourced at a higher level in terms of research and communications support and are attended to by a multi-lawyer team. Attention is paid to how the case affects other employees as well as the best interests of the individual complainant.

Stage 3

Law Reform Through Trial and Appellate Advocacy
Finally, where the law relating to a dispute or systemic injustice is entirely absent or unfavourable to the working poor, the matter may be referred to the third stage of the advocacy model as a law reform need. Here the litigation team partners with leading private lawyers, on a pro bono basis, in order to bring actions or applications with the aim of changing or defining the law in a way more favourable to the working poor.

[email protected] is already working on developing legal strategies for addressing injustices faced by employees of so-called "temp agencies," the wrongful classification of employees as independent contractors, working conditions for live-in care givers, and the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program. In the event clients, defendants and discreet legal issues are identified by the Litigation team, a referral is made to the program's pro bono partners and the matter proceeds on a co-counsel basis between the Clinic and a pro bono partner.

About our Sponsors

Community Legal Clinic - Simcoe, Haliburton, Kawartha Lakes

Founded in 1981, the Clinic is one of 80 legal clinics funded by Legal Aid Ontario to provide legal services to people with low income in the areas of housing, income maintenance, Criminal Injuries Compensation, consumer and employment law, and workers' compensation appeals. It services an area that includes 22 municipalities and is spread over 11,000 square kilometres, with a population of about half a million people. The clinic also accepts some clients from outside its core service area, including disability benefit appeals from York Region, and important test cases from anywhere in the province. Since 2002, the clinic has annually opened the greatest number of new client case files in the Legal Aid Ontario clinic system.

The Clinic has a full-time staff of 5 lawyers, 5 community legal workers, 1 articling student and 3 support staff. It offers a variety of legal services, which include client counselling and representation, public education seminars, law reform and community development. The Clinic also relies on more than 20 volunteers who together commit between 300-400 hours per month.

Poverty law practice reform

The Clinic takes a team-based approach to its high-volume income maintenance appeals practice. This enables it to achieve case management efficiency while maintaining a success rate that is higher than the provincial average for represented appellants before the Social Benefits Tribunal. By showcasing this methodology and investing in new programs, the Clinic seeks to increase discussion and awareness of the benefits to disadvantaged litigants flowing from innovation in the delivery of clinical legal services.

In 2004, the Clinic partnered with the Dickson Circle, a leading group of Ontario litigators committed to arguing cases for disadvantaged people on a pro bono basis. Since then, the Clinic has engaged, on a co-counsel basis through the Dickson Circle, with leading members of the Ontario litigation Bar in order to present important cases on behalf of autistic children, criminally injured aboriginals, rent-to-own tenants on lands reserved for First Nations, a cooperative housing corporation in receivership, impoverished immigrant sponsors and others.

The Clinic has a litigation team which actively seeks out and accepts important cases, from all over Ontario, for presentation in court.

The Clinic also acts as a project manager for community groups, government and other organizations. As a project manager, the Clinic has impacted the practices of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, as it regards the victims of crime, by spearheading a provincial clinic training program and advocacy model-change; established a community-based social housing charity (Places for People) in conjunction with Canada Housing and Mortgage Corporation; worked with a leading commercial software vendor to develop a pilot Client Relationship Management system for Legal Aid Ontario; is developing a provincial legal services website with funding from Legal Aid Ontario; and has developed a complex Advanced Trial Advocacy training program for poverty lawyers, which engages the Boston-based Center for Legal Aid Education (a preeminent North American legal aid trainer), in partnership with the Dickson Circle and Law Foundation of Ontario.

The Law Foundation of Ontario

Established in 1974, The LFO is a grant-giving organization committed to the advancement of legal knowledge, excellence within the legal profession and community participation in the legal system. The LFO funds programs and initiatives that promote and enhance access to justice for all Ontarians.

Formed under an amendment to the Law Society Act (the governing legislation of lawyers in Ontario), the LFO receives interest on lawyers' mixed trust accounts to fund worthwhile programs for law-related activities. In 2008 the Act was further amended to include the interest on mixed trust accounts from paralegals.

For more information about the Law Foundation of Ontario please visit: The Law Foundation of Ontario