Scotiabank settlement serves as warning for employers to pay overtime

A recent settlement in a class-action lawsuit over unpaid overtime illustrates how workers can have a large impact when asserting their rights, says labour and employment lawyer Arthur Zeilikman.

An Ontario judge recently approved a $20.6-million settlement for about 1,600 Scotiabank employees who had been denied overtime pay while on the job, the Toronto Star reports. The revised settlement finally put an end to a lawsuit launched nine years ago.

In total, 15,000 people working for the bank were included in the class action. Earlier, about $18.7 million had been disbursed to class-action members — in addition to the recently revised settlement. Bank workers who had their claims paid in entirety won’t receive any more money.

“Often, employers don’t actually know what overtime is: when it starts and when it ends,” Zeilikman, principal of of Zeilikman Law, tells “Many employees in Ontario are protected by overtime provisions.”

The Scotiabank case serves as a reminder that even in an era of high expectations for workers, they can still assert their rights, he adds.

Employers in Ontario are obligated to abide by rules and provisions including paying workers time-and-a-half for more than 44 hours per week of work.

“The Scotiabank settlement is a reminder that these standards are there for a reason and employers are expected to follow them. And certainly the more you work, the more difficult it is for you. So there has to be a financial incentive for the employee to want to work beyond the required time,” says Zeilikman.

“These are legislated standards. These minimum provisions are legislated and they’re not created by the virtue of a collective agreement that are bargained for by a union,” he says. Employees represented by a union might see enhanced overtime payments that exceed the minimum requirements, he adds.

At the same time, part of the value of the Scotiabank lawsuit is in the numbers — the class action was a collective claim on behalf of about 16,000 people in total.

“They can only affect this change by virtue of their numbers,” in this case through certified class proceedings, notes Zeilikman.

One employee alone may not feel their individual claim is worth pursuing, or it may not be worth their while to hire a lawyer to pursue it, he says.

“When we’re talking about 16,000 employees it’s a different story,” Zeilikman says. Through the collective, they end up making a huge claim.

Zeilikman points out overtime rules don’t apply to everyone. Managers, for example, are exempt under the Employment Standards Act because the expectation is that the responsibilities might not all be met within a certain timeframe.

But there are misconceptions, Zeilikman adds. Some employers think that because an employee is on salary, they don’t need to pay them overtime.

“When you’re considering starting a business or hiring employees, because these standards are basic standards, they’re minimum standards, and as an employer you have to respect that.”

“It’s interesting how it’s still a problem these days," he says.

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