Cooperative education programs have become a crucial part of the educational experience as students and institutions recognize that on the job training enhances the overall educational experience. A good co-op can ground a student’s in-class learning by introducing them to practical “real world” problems. If the placement goes well, students may be offered a job with the company or provided a positive reference in their industry! It is no wonder that students flock to this option when it is available.  

What Does an Employer Get Out of It?

Employers stand to benefit the most from co-op placements because they acquire a cost-effective human resource that can support their team during peak periods and offer a fresh perspective. Employers can also claim the Ontario Co-operative Education Tax Credit, which offers the employer a credit of up to $3,000 per student, per work term (on average, work terms are 4 months long). Eligible employers can file a Schedule 550 with their tax return in order to receive the credit.

Legal Requirements for Employers

The Employment Standards Act (ESA) explicitly excludes co-op students, meaning the ESA does not apply to them. A student is only regarded as a co-op student if they are working under a program approved by an educational institution. The ESA describes an approved program as being one of the following:

  • A secondary school student who performs work under a work experience program authorized by the school board that operates the school in which the student is enrolled.
  • An individual who performs work under a program approved by a college of applied arts and technology or a university.
  • An individual who performs work under a program that is approved by a private career college registered under the Private Career Colleges Act, 2005 and that meets such criteria as may be prescribed.

If the student does not fall under one of the categories listed above, then the worker would be categorized as a fixed-term employee. 

Because co-op students are excluded, employers are not required to provide co-op students with the statutory entitlements articulated in the ESA, including minimum wage, vacation pay, breaks and termination pay. If however, an employer’s current co-op student’s contract references ESA entitlements, the employer will be required to provide these entitlements to the student. 

While employers are not required to provide ESA minimum standards to their co-op students, some companies will provide their students with “perks” in an effort to get the best and brightest to join their team. 

Ontario employers who hire co-op students are required to abide by the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Occupational Health and Safety Act with respect to their treatment of these students. For example, employers cannot discriminate against co-op students based on a prohibited ground or ignore the harassment claims they make. 


Remember that a co-op placement may be the first job a student has in their preferred industry, so employers have a responsibility to make the work challenging, to offer the student an opportunity to hone their skills and to provide a meaningful mentorship.  Remember, during the placement, the student is “interviewing” you just as much as you are “interviewing” them, so it is to your benefit to create an environment that they want to come back to.

If you looking for legal counsel regarding your co-op student obligations and/or contracts, get in touch!