Environmental Protection Act

Overview

The Environmental Protection Act (RSO 1990, c. E.19) prohibits any retaliation against employees for giving information about a violation of the Act or a series of other environment related statutes (such as the Ontario Water Resources Act, the Pesticides Act or the Toxics Reduction Act). Employees are protected when they disclose information to the Ministry of the Environment or provincial officer designated by the Minister. Any retaliation is considered an offence which is subject to a fine, and if it is repeated, subject to imprisonment.

What kind of disclosure is protected?

The Act protects any employee who, while acting in good faith and on the basis of reasonable belief, has disclosed information regarding a violation of Ontario’s environmental laws,  to the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks s.174.

Who is eligible for protection?

In order to be protected under the Act, employees must act in good faith and on the basis of reasonable belief when disclosing information regarding a wrongdoing.

How are whistleblowers protected?

The Act prohibits any kind of reprisal against an employee who has made a protected disclosure under the Act s.174, who has sought enforcement of any environmental laws or who has cooperated in an investigation regarding a wrongdoing s.174. Any employer who knowingly takes any kind of reprisal against an employee who has made a protected disclosure may be ordered to to follow an order s. 174 (8), and any individual or corporation may be found guilty of an offence s. 186 and may be liable to a fine s. 187. A person complaining of a contravention may file the complaint in writing with the Board.

A reprisal s.174 includes any of the following acts: dismissal, discipline, penalize, intimidation, coercion, or attempts to intimidate or coerce.

Any employer who knowingly takes any kind of reprisal against an employee who has made a protected disclosure may be ordered to do any of the following s. 174(8):

  • cease doing the act(s) complained of;
  • rectify the act(s) complained of; or
  • reinstate employment of the complainant with or without compensation, or to compensate in lieu of hiring, or reinstate for loss of earnings or other employment benefits in an amount to be assessed by the Board.

Any individual who knowingly takes any kind of reprisal against an employee who has made a protected disclosure may be found guilty of an offence s.186 and may be liable to s.187:

  • a fine of no more than $50,000 for each day or part of a day on which the offence occurs or continues;
  • for each subsequent conviction,
    • for each day or part of a day on which the offence occurs or continues, a fine of not more than $100,000,
    • to imprisonment for a term of not more than one year, or
    • to both such fine and imprisonment.

Any corporation who knowingly takes any kind of reprisal against an employee who has made a protected disclosure may be found guilty of an offence s.186 and may be liable to s.187:

  • on a first conviction, for each day or part of a day on which the offence occurs or continues, to a fine of not more than $250,000; and
  • on each subsequent conviction, for each day or part of a day on which the offence occurs or continues, to a fine of not more than $500,000 s. 187.

How should disclosures be made?

Be careful! Despite presenting some challenges for follow ups, one of the best protections for whistleblowers is their anonymity. Be cautious when providing any information through electronic means, especially emails! Read the security tips section.

If an employee has suffered or believes to have suffered a reprisal, they may file a complaint with the Ontario Labour Relations Board s.174(3).

Submissions made under the Labour Relations Act and Provincial Offences Act should clearly allege which laws have been breached and be made in a timely manner.

Failure to make timely submissions may result in the termination or dismissal of applications.

When an employee calls the LRS (Lawyer Referral Service), it will provide them with the name of a lawyer who will provide a free consultation of up to 30 minutes to help them determine their rights and options. Employees can access the service by calling: 1-800-268-8326 or 416-947-3330 (within the GTA). 

For more information,  visit the “Public Resources” tab on the Law Society of Ontario’s website.

Mailing Address:
The Registrar
Ontario Labour Relations Board
505 University Avenue - 2nd Floor
Toronto, ON
M5G 2P1

For more information on disclosing information or on filing a complaint, please visit http://www.olrb.gov.on.ca/english/contactus.htm.