There is a fair amount of talk right now about whether law firms should be required to pay articling students a minimum wage.
But isn’t this so-called ‘debate’ about whether the Law Society should legislate a minimum wage for articling students just the tip of the iceberg? What about the institutionalized discrimination created by the Employment Standards Act (Ontario) against lawyers and articling students (together with architects, accountants, engineers, teachers, surveyors, and others)?
I am sure that there are many who do not actually care about the mental and physical health of lawyers, because after all, we are supposedly all rich or about to be rich. But I wonder if those who do care have given much thought to the list of statutory protections that do not apply to articling students and lawyers in Ontario. The Ontario Government website sums it up nicely and tells lawyers and articling students that:
” You are not entitled to:
• minimum wage
• daily or weekly limits on hours of work
• daily rest periods
• time off between shifts
• weekly/bi-weekly rest periods
• eating periods
• overtime pay
• sick leave, family responsibility leave or bereavement leave, if taking the leave would be professional misconduct or abandoning your duty
• public holidays or public holiday pay
• vacation with pay”
Now I suppose that the justification for this has something to do with people in the exempt categories being sophisticated and able to negotiate to protect themselves, and perhaps that is true for some. Teachers, for example, are often unionized and able to negotiate some of these protections into their collective agreements.
But what clout do articling students have? Not a hell of a lot. None at all, really.
And would it be the end of the world if law firms with more than say, twenty-five lawyers, were required to comply with the Employment Standards Act? The only downside that I can see is that they may be forced to hire a few more lawyers to handle the workload and the per partner profit may go down a bit. That seems to me to be a modest price to pay to protect the mental and physical health of lawyers and articling students (as well as those who share highways and sidewalks with sleep deprived members of the profession).
Perhaps the big firms who are now busy marketing about how much they care about mental health and work life balance might want to use their political influence to lobby for the repeal of the application of the exemptions applicable to lawyers from the minimum standards under the Employment Standards Act? Lots of other businesses manage to comply with the minimum standards and make a profit. Maybe they should give it a try?
Don’t hold your breath.