By Sue Sodek
It’s becoming increasingly hard for employers to keep up with advances in labour laws in Canada. Unless you have a seasoned HR department and an army of employment lawyers on speed dial, it can be hard to know if you’re up to date. My advice to employers as always is regardless of where you are in the employment cycle, keep excellent notes and when in doubt, get help from an expert.
It’s not all doom and gloom when it comes to managing a workforce. Having strong, communicated and equitably enforced policies will set you apart as an employer of choice, which in this increasingly complex and competitive landscape will help you attract and retain good people. Regardless of the political and economic ebbs and flows, knowing your obligations as an employer and treating your employees with respect is always the right call.
You may have seen the headlines about workers being entitled to 10 paid sick days in Canada, a major step forward for one very specific body of workers, and a major source of confusion for the rest of us. Federally regulated workers, who represent about 20 per cent of the total Canadian workforce, now have 10 paid sick days mandated for each year. The rest of us vary from none to three, depending on factors such as industry and province. To add to the confusion, when an employee is ill, some benefit plans have short- or longterm disability coverage; in some cases the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board or Employment Insurance (EI) covers workers; and there are even still some COVID payments that have been extended (at press time most are set to expire this summer after being extended several times since 2020).
What this all will mean is that when someone is unexpectedly off work due to illness, they are going to be looking to you for answers. If you have a benefit plan, your first stop should be with your provider: ask them to walk you through the process as an employee would when they have a sick day, a sick month, or a long illness. Next, do some research on what your province and the federal government offer under EI sickness benefits and EI. You will be much better positioned to reassure your employees during difficult times if you have the information before it’s actually needed.
Violence and harassment at work
Speaking of headlines, we have all seen the stories of, or sadly been affected by, the increase in harassment and acts of violence that have been taking place in workplaces across Canada and globally. While it may not have been on your radar in the last few months, Canada has become part of a landmark coalition with the International Labour Organization (ILO). Spearheaded by the ILO and championed by Canadian policy makers, Convention 190 (C190) is a global initiative to put policies and enforcement into place to guarantee all workplaces are free of violence and harassment. What does this mean for your business? You can get ahead of the curve now by putting an anti-harassment and violence policy in place, or reviewing your current policy to it contains information on reporting and enforcement. Ensuring that you’ve communicated your commitment to providing a safe workplace to your employees is a positive first step. Remember, the best written policies mean nothing if management isn’t willing to support and enforce them – don’t just talk the talk.
It should come as no surprise to hear that employees are becoming increasingly concerned about their rights in the workplace – as we all should. As the technology options for tracking and monitoring employees become more robust, the onus is on you as the employer to ensure you are open and transparent about the ways you collect information, and what you’re doing with it once you have it. While privacy legislation for workers varies by province, most have some degree of protection and disclosure required of employers.
A written policy that states what systems you have in place to track your workers, and how information is used and stored, is an excellent place to start (see this story at mechanicalbusiness.com for a sample policy you can make your own).
At a minimum, include details around any trackers, security cameras, GPS units or apps you use to monitor your staff; notes about how and where that information is stored, including how long you keep it and who has access to it; and a disclaimer that allows you to update the policy as you see fit. No policy is defensible until it’s actually been communicated to employees; make sure once it’s written, you’ve shared it with all of your people.
Employment contracts – have them
Finally, there has been increased focus on what is enforceable when it comes to employment agreements. A handshake and a one-pager might have been sufficient in the past, but nowadays when it comes to the employment relationship, the weight is heavily in favour of the one that signed the contract, not the one that drafted it. First and foremost, anyone who works for you today should have an up-to-date employment contract. Can you say that’s true for all of your staff?
If it’s been some time since someone was hired, before you offer them their next raise, you should take a good look at what’s on file and ensure it’s still valid. If not, you can have current employees sign new agreements as long as you offer them what’s known as consideration (such as more money, time off or a signing bonus − enough to make a material improvement to the employee).
If you are creating a template to use with any new hires, make sure you review your offer letter with an employment lawyer. The most common issues arise when a contract clause contravenes the Employment Standards Act; you can go above and beyond, but you can’t offer any less than what’s laid out in the legislation. If you’re ever unfortunate enough to go to arbitration or court over an employment contract, if just one clause is deemed unenforceable, it can invalidate the entire document. The reality is, workers are extremely savvy when it comes to their rights, and this is not an area for guesswork.