Sheltered Workshop Human Rights Application Settles

As you may be aware, the Community Living Sarnia-Lambton Human Rights Application related to its sheltered workshop was scheduled to be heard in early June.  Local news reports indicate that the parties have arrived at a confidential settlement.

This application was filed by a participant in CL Sarnia’s Wawanosh Enterprises, a sheltered workshop supporting persons with disabilities. Like all sheltered workshops across Ontario, this program too arguably fell within the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA) exemption for “simulated workplaces” operated “for the primary purpose of rehabilitation”.  In response to complaints such as this, the Ontario Government has proposed to eliminate this exemption, as well as language that previously exempted trainees in on-the-job training.

These legislative amendments are being proposed in the wake of considerable changes introduced by the Ministry of Community and Social Services (the “Ministry”) in 2015 and 2016, first putting a moratorium on all new enrollment in sheltered work programs and later compelling the transition of a very broad cross section of programs in accordance with the Ministry guidelines titled “Supporting the Shift to Greater Inclusion“.  The Ministry’s guidelines provide guidance as to the types of programs DS Sector agencies should be offering or developing for persons supported, including in relation to:

  1. Volunteer activities with for profit operations
  2. Providing any kind of an honorarium or stipend for volunteering
  3. Training programs
  4. Social enterprises
  5. Self-employment

Developing new and alternative programming that complies with the Ministry’s guidelines and the changes to the Employment Standards Act, 2000 is a balancing act requiring a sound understanding of not only those guidelines and the law, but also Ministry funding, operational and staffing constraints, support options, the interests and rights of persons supported and their families.  It’s important that you turn your mind to the transition process and development of alternatives as soon as possible to ensure your organization is able to make the required changes before the ESA changes comes into effect.

This is a time of change and uncertainty in the DS Sector, however the recent changes to the ESA provide clear marching orders for the future.  Hopefully this settlement will mark the last of the disputes related to sheltered work as the sector moves towards more inclusive options.

We will provide you with further details as they become available.

Please let us know if you would like to discuss this settlement and its implications for your operations.