Earlier this week, I received an email from the owner of a small company who was frustrated at all of the resources available for employees and the lack of resources for employers. She pointed out that the various human rights commissions across Canada will often offer services to complainants, and that in general, the system felt biased towards employees.
I agree that once a matter gets to a hearing, our arbitrators and decision makers acknowledge the power imbalance that often exists between an employer and an employee, particularly if the employee is unrepresented. This is the case throughout the law, and represents more of an attempt to ensure fair outcomes than any intentional bias towards one side.
Having said that, I thought it would be helpful to point out some useful (free) resources that do exist for employers:
(a) Ontario Employment Standards
- Ontario Ministry of Labour Employment Standards Branch hotline – 416-326-7160. Put this in your speed-dial – they are very knowledgeable about the basic provisions of the Employment Standards Act and are a great place to start with many employment law questions.
- Ontario Ministry of Labour website contains an information guideline for employers, and some useful tools, including a public holiday pay calculator and a new severance payment tool.
- The Ontario Employment Standards Act is also online.
(b) Federal Employment Law Information
- If your company is federally regulated (e.g. banks, airlines, etc), Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) has an employment standards website.
- HRSDC also provides information about employment insurance (EI), information about maternity and parental benefits (which is a type of EI), and Records of Employments (ROE). This information applies whether you are a provincially or federally governed business.
(c) Health & Safety
- For workplace insurance issues, the Workplace Safety & Insurance Board website is a place to start.
- A great resource for employers is the Employer’s Advocacy Council. The EAC is a non-profit organization that is a leading source of information, training and advocacy on workplace insurance, health and safety.
- The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) and the Occupational Health and Safety Council of Ontario (OHSCO) are both useful sources about workplace workplace illnesses and injuries. The OHSCO, for example, has developed and just posted a guide on complying with Bill 168, the new Workplace Violence and Harassment legislation.
(d) Human Rights
- Although the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) no longer has carriage of files at the Human Rights Tribunal, the OHRC has produced a number of helpful publications over the years, including guides about hiring employees, developing compliant workplace policies, drug testing, employment-related medical information, and an extensive online publication called "Human Rights at Work". These guidelines are not binding on the Tribunal, in court or at an arbitration, but are useful minimum standards to use as a defence should an employee claim discrimination in the workplace.
- The Human Rights Tribunal has a number of online publications, including a Respondent’s Guide (the one most used by employers) and a Guide to Preparing for a Hearing.
- Employees can access the Human Rights Legal Support Centre, the new organization established last year when the Human Rights Tribunal started accepting cases directly from complainants, rather than having to go through the OHRC as a gatekeeper. The Centre is for "individuals throughout Ontario who believe they have experienced discrimination", not for employers.
- The Ontario Human Rights Code is online.
- Practical Tip: The Tribunal is now no different than any other legal proceeding, and given the assistance complainants (i.e. employees) can get through the Human Rights Legal Support Centre, I would caution an employer from trying to go it alone at the tribunal. Whether you retain a lawyer to help with just the response at the beginning, or with the entire process, including the legal arguments at the hearing, there is no way to avoid the fact that this is an increasingly complicated a legal forum.
The above list is just a start and I know there are many, many more resources out there. If you have a recommendation for a good employer advocacy organization, let me know and I’d be happy to post your link here as a resource to employers.
Resources readers have since suggested to me:
- The Office of the Employer Adviser (OEA) is an independent agency of the Ministry of Labour that helps Ontario employers manage their workplace safety and insurance costs. They provide advice to any size employer, but represent primarily employers who employ fewer than 100 employees.