By Sue Sodek
With all of the draws on your attention these days, it can be impossible to find time to follow the ups and downs of labour disputes. But you should know that your employees are paying attention, and if you don’t want to land yourself in hot water, you need to stay one step ahead.
Before we proceed, please know that this article is meant as a general overview − not legal advice. Canadian labour laws are tricky to navigate – there are differing provincial and federal rules, unique collective bargaining agreements, and business and job status variations which all have an impact on what applies to whom and when. A good rule of thumb should be, if you’re worrying that you need a labour lawyer you probably do. In the meantime, here’s the Cole’s notes on what might impact your business today, and what you need to know to help prepare for the future.
Coming into play in Ontario, this legislation is the first of its kind in Canada. Following similar laws passed in France and Ireland, Right to Disconnect legislation aims to put some boundaries around “work creep.” The ease with which we now communicate comes with the price of never truly having downtime. When the ability to send a fast text or quick email is literally always at hand, few can resist the temptation to do just that one more thing. There have even been think pieces published lately declaring “the end of the sick day.” Since work can be done remotely, why ever stop doing it, especially for something as trivial as illness? This change to Ontario’s Employment Standard’s Act impacts every employer with more than 25 people on their payroll, and requires a written policy (see sample Right to Disconnect Policy) that’s available and communicated to your workforce no later than June 1 of this year. While legislated solely in Ontario at the moment, other provinces are looking into or are in the process of passing similar legislation. Putting a written policy in place will not only ensure you are in compliance legally but it will send the signal to your employees that you value their time and take their well being seriously.
The only thing happening faster than COVID-19 policy changes are the legal challenges those policies produce. With reopening gaining momentum some employers are thinking it’s time to take the foot off the brakes when it comes to enforcing mandates; others may still wish to include vaccination policies as a continued protection for their workforce.
At this point, what’s right for your workers and your business is something only you can be the judge of; when it comes time for you to put it in writing is where the legal concerns come into play. Creating a policy that keeps everyone safe while simultaneously keeps everyone happy is a very fine line to walk but there is some precedent setting happening, and it’s generally in favour of pro-vaccine policies (with a few caveats). Assuming you have a written, clearly communicated policy which has allowed ample time for people to review and raise any objections and you’ve given your employees options (such as, employees must either get vaccinated or continue to mask/rapid test/work from home), disgruntled employees will generally, have no legal leg to stand on if they try to challenge your policy in court.
There are a wide variety of laws in place to help protect and expand the rights of those traditionally kept out of the workforce, including those with disabilities. What many employers fail to take into account is these pieces of legislation apply not only to protect and assist your current employees, but also to your applicants, and the hiring process as a whole.
If you are placing a job ad, conducting interviews or making job offers, ensure that you have taken accessibility into consideration. This can be accomplished through a variety of means, such as including a line in your job ad (“candidates are encouraged to ask for accommodations throughout the hiring process where required”), taking the time to survey your premises to see if there are outstanding accessibility issues to be addressed, or even considering placing job ads in targeted publications in order to attract a more diverse candidate pool. In this tough labour market good employers know they can’t afford to alienate any demographic, let alone contravene the law.