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New temporary help agency licensing requirements: How will they impact your business?

Group of workers meeting in blue hard hats and yellow vests

If you suddenly find yourself short-staffed or with an unexpected workload increase that pushes your capacity to its limit, temporary help agencies may seem like an appealing solution. “You call the agency, tell them you need ten workers by the end of the week to complete a specific job, and they deliver,” says Jay Remsik, Health and Safety Consultant with WSPS. “You can understand why businesses use temporary help agencies. They fill gaps in many sectors across the province,” says Jay. “The problem is that some of them are breaking the law and preying on vulnerable workers.” 

Why licenses are being introduced for temporary help agencies 

According to the Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development (MLITSD), there were approximately 2,300 temporary help agencies operating in Ontario at the end of 2022. Inspections revealed that multiple temporary help agencies were illegally paying workers below the minimum wage and denying them basic employment rights. In some cases, passports were being withheld.

To address this problem, the provincial government will require temporary help agencies and recruiters to be licensed in order to operate in Ontario as of July 1, 2024. One of the requirements in the licensing application is that the agency will need to provide information about compliance with the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Employers will still need to show that they have provided training. Examples could be the following:  health and safety policies and procedures, location of first aid kit, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) requirements for their role, and emergency preparation information (including the location of fire extinguishers). More information about the stringent licensing requirements—one of which is for the agency or recruiter to provide $25,000 that can be used to repay owed wages to employees—can be found on the MLITSD’s website. Licenses must be renewed annually. 

What does this mean for employers who use these services?

“The Ministry has been quite clear,” says Jay. “It will be against the law for businesses to knowingly use unlicensed agencies for staffing.” Once this new legislation comes into effect, businesses that use temporary help agencies for staffing will need to verify that they are licensed. The best way to do that will be to check the online database that the MLITSD has developed.

“Businesses can now go online, search the name of an agency or recruiter, and confirm that they are licensed and in good standing,” says Jay. In much the same way that we can search the WSIB’s website to confirm that a business or contractor has a valid clearance certificate (i.e., WSIB coverage) before hiring them, businesses can find out if a temporary help agency is licensed before working with them. 

Tips for working with temporary help agencies

If you use temporary help agencies, Jay has some advice to ensure that your health and safety obligations are being met. 

  1. As the employer, you are responsible for training. If the agency offers to complete the required health and safety training with workers before they arrive at your workplace, that may be a great time-saver. However, remember that you, as the employer, are still responsible for verifying the quality of the training and for maintaining valid documentation that the training took place.
  2. Site-specific training must be done. It’s not enough for workers to complete generic training courses before they arrive at your workplace. Employers are responsible for site-specific training. For example, if workers complete WHMIS training with a temporary help agency, they will still need to be trained on the specific WHMIS-controlled products they will use in the workplace.
  3.  Training should be in a language workers understand. If you know that the workers coming to your workplace do not have strong English language skills, be prepared to translate training and other important information. Arrange to have an interpreter or use images such as pictograms to ensure workers understand your instructions. 

How WSPS can help

Consulting

Connect with a WSPS expert on health and safety program development to ensure you are providing your temporary workers with the training and information they need to work safely.

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Training

The information in this article is accurate as of its publication date.