You might be left with a sour taste in your mouth if your current or a prospective employer asks you to do unpaid training. If you find yourself in this situation, you may be left wondering what your legal rights are and how to respond. This blog post explains when unpaid training is allowed, and when it is not.
In many cases, unpaid training required by an employer is illegal
The Ontario Employment Standards Act (the “ESA”) establishes the minimum rights of most Ontario workers. Save for a few exceptions described below, the ESA generally requires employers to pay employees for their time spent on training that is done on the job.
An employee’s time spent doing training required by their employer is legally counted as “work time” and therefore must be compensated for under the ESA. This includes, for example, an employee’s time spent doing any training shifts when first starting a job.
In some situations, an intern may be considered an employee under the ESA and will also be legally entitled to pay for their work and any time spent on required training. Under the ESA, one of the characteristics of an “employee” is someone who receives training from the employer in a skill that is used by the employer’s workers. Interns who meet these criteria, and who are not participants of an academic internship program, may therefore be legally entitled to compensation for their time spent on required training under the Act.
Exceptions where unpaid training is permissible
There are some situations in which an employer is not legally required to pay employees for their time spent on training.
Employers are not legally required to pay employees for training that is not required by the employer. For example, an employer has no legal obligation to pay an employee who participates in voluntary training that the employee believes will increase their likelihood of receiving a promotion or acquiring a new position at work.
There are also certain industries that are not covered under the ESA (see a complete list of those industries here) and that do not have entitlements to pay for required training under the ESA. For example, high school, college and university students who are participating in an academic internship or co-op program authorized by their school are not covered under the ESA and therefore not entitled to compensation for their work or time spent doing training.
Responding to illegal unpaid training
If an employee has already completed required unpaid training that they were legally entitled to be paid for, they can make a claim to the Ministry of Labour for their unpaid wages. Before making a claim though, you should consider speaking to your employer and asking for your unpaid wages.
If an employee has been illegally asked to do unpaid training and the employee refuses, the employer cannot intimidate, threaten, or fire the employee for exercising their rights to refuse illegal unpaid training under the ESA. If an employer does so, the employee can take legal action against them.
If you have questions regarding your legal rights and unpaid training, one of our lawyers would be happy to assist you.
*Special thanks to articling student O. Avriel for his assistance in drafting this post.