In my recent blog posts, I discussed the emerging importance of coworking spaces in the post-industrial workforce and some of the risks around data security and privacy, as well as interpersonal employment law risks.  In this next part of the series, I set out strategies to consider when managing employees in the coworking space.

Nobody likes to be a joy-killer with draconian policies and 20 page employment contracts.  But having nothing in place is asking for unnecessary headaches.  Here are a few lean strategies that you can consider, and to ramp up and expand as you grow:

1)    Employment Contracts

Just do it.  You have to.  Everything flows from this document.  I get it that many pockets of the tech and creative world are informal and small, that you think long wordy contracts will make you look like a jerk (or worse, like a lawyer), and that the desire for repeat work will be the deterrent to bad behavior.  Without at least a lean employment contract, however, employers leave themselves exposed to the otherwise very employee-friendly damage awards of the Canadian court system, whether or not you believe you terminated your employee “for cause”.

If nothing else, at least use a contract that sets out a fair, but contained termination provision and that contains provisions addressing your IP and confidential information.  It’s always best to discuss expectations upfront when the relationship is still positive and smooth.  As well, if any component of your employee’s compensation includes some sort of equity or company stock plan, that’s complicated stuff that should be properly papered upfront.

2)    Policies  

I know, it’s not a complete employment law blog without a reference to workplace policies, but the policy need not be a gold-plated binder full of 100 policies.  A concise summary in an email, which is distributed to all employees and acknowledged back by employees, is an excellent start for your startup.  The key step is to have a discussion about the workplace policies with employees, so that the document is not created in a vacuum, only to collect virtual dust afterward.

The policy should include headings with a paragraph or two below each that sets out the employer’s expectations.  Topics should at least include:  discrimination & anti-harassment, confidential and proprietary information, expectation of privacy, ownership of online content, and appropriate social media/email/computer use.  There is an infinite list of additional provisions to consider, all depending on your company’s size, industry and culture.

3)    Check In Regularly  

While the coworking world is supposed to be a utopia of creative freedom, independence and collaboration, your employer responsibilities do not fall away because of your employee’s workplace culture and environment.  In fact, for any employees working remotely in a coworking space, that level of freedom could lead to higher risk to the employer, even if it may concurrently and nevertheless lead to higher, better productivity from the employee.  If you are not in the same city as your employee (your employee is in Vancouver, you in Toronto), or in different types of space (you at the main office on King Street East, your employee in their coworking space up the street), it is even more important to check in regularly.

Are they encountering any discrimination in the office?  Any harassment?  Are they the discriminator or harasser exposing you to a claim?  Any struggle with drugs or alcohol (which is a disability under theHuman Rights Code if diagnosed as an addiction by a physician)?  Any side business using your content without your permission?

The Evolution has only Begun

Coworking spaces are a fascinating evolution in how we work together.  The evolution, however, has only begun, and the employment law implications are still in their infancy.

I would love to hear from readers who work in the coworking space.  What issues are you facing?  What are the informal practices that will never die, but probably should?  What challenges are you facing as either an employee or employer in the space?