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Why Ontario employers can pay veteran workers the same wage as new hires

CBC with Muneeza Sheikh 10 January 2018

Karen Seenath said it felt like her dignity was on the line when she opted to quit her job at a Brampton Tim Hortons —- a position she’d held for the past seven and a half years.

The franchise she worked at, she told CBC Radio’s Metro Morning, had posted a notice saying that break times would be reduced and new rules about breaks would be implemented.

Even worse, she says, was the news that employees like her, who had been earning slightly over the old minimum wage after years on the job, would earn $14 — the same wage as a newly hired staff member.

“I think that that was unfair for me, working there so long, to be starting off at the minimum wage, when I should get a higher raise,” she said.

She sent in her notice on Boxing Day, explaining that she felt her bosses weren’t taking their employees into consideration.

Labour lawyer Muneeza Sheikh, a partner at Levitt LLP, says she’s heard a number of stories similar to Seenath’s since the new minimum wage was implemented on Jan. 1.

Businesses can run in ‘way they see fit’

So is it illegal? Likely not, Sheikh told CBC Toronto.

“If you have a situation where you have certain employees who have received raises or bonuses commensurate with their tenure or their seniority, at the end of the day an employer is allowed to run their business in a way they see fit,” she said.

The only possible recourse for an employee who earned over the old minimum, but has found themselves returned to a flat minimum wage since January, is to check company policies and their own employment contract, said Sheikh.

Labour lawyer Muneeza Sheikh says it’s easy for businesses to re-assess their bottom line and opt to pay more senior employees the same as newer hires. (CBC )

“If an employee can prove that by only getting the bump to $14 … there was a breach of some policy the employer had, they may be able to argue that there was a fundamental breach of one of the terms of their employment contract,” she said.

But Sheikh says it’s unlikely that a non-union employee who is paid close to the minimum wage would have that kind of contract.

“I would find it shocking if they find an employment agreement that guaranteed them any sort of raise or guaranteed them a bonus or commission, because those are terms that are usually reserved for more senior level positions,” she said.