In these challenging times, in the midst of the pandemic, as workplaces re-open, pivot and change, we see the importance and immense value of having strategic employment and workplace law advice. Just a small allocation of thought space and time to being proactive could have changed the outcome of so many situations. We see it now in our firm in many ways.
Having run a small business for over a decade, I can appreciate that employers are often triaging the urgent demand of finding solutions to client’s needs. Rarely did I have the time or opportunity to “smell the roses” let alone try to proactively anticipate the workplace law needs of my growing organization. However, I now see the critical importance of taking a proactive approach.
For example, in late June of 2020, a very important decision was made by the Ontario Court of Appeal that significantly impacts employment agreements and the ability to terminate an employee with only Employment Standards Act entitlements. This decision was groundbreaking – our July 23rd blog post covers this decision in more detail. If you have employment contracts with a termination provision, you will want to ensure that they are compliant with the required wording from the Employment Standards Act and are valid and enforceable.
With the potential of back-to-school for children looming on the horizon and more and more restrictions being lifted, employers and employees have also sought advice about returning to work during COVID-19. Workplaces require policies and procedures in place to protect workers. The Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Ministry of Labour require that employers have a safe work environment, otherwise employees can refuse unsafe work.
Employees may also choose not to return to work if they do not have childcare. Employers will want to have considered this issue and have policies in place to deal with it. How it is dealt with may be dependent on whether or not it is a unionized workplace. Our July 30th blog deals with employees who do not wish to return to work, and an employer’s duty to accommodate based on family status. In short, subject to your employment agreement and if justified, employees can be accommodated by taking unpaid leave to address childcare issues while children are out of school.
Being cognizant of your obligations under the Employment Standards Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Act allows for a much more proactive approach to running your business or organization. Having job roles and responsibilities laid out in a clear fashion allows an employer to evaluate performance and address issues. While, it can seem like it is impossible to find the time to address these issues, not doing so can be very costly especially when it comes to terminating employees.
Workplace law is changing and there are more and more laws in place to protect employees. Protection is not just in the traditional form of protecting employees from physical harm. Workplaces have to comply with various aspects of the law including the Human Rights Code. Recently, the Federal government updated the laws governing federal employees with anti-violence and harassment policies. Not having key policies, like anti-harassment and safety policies, can also lead to employee complaints, Ministry of Labour Orders, and workplace investigations that are stressful, time-consuming, and costly.
Getting strategic advice, however brief, can certainly help employers make the best decisions in difficult situations. Being proactive rather than reactive can pay off. It allows for an understanding of all the options, both legally and practically, to allow an organization to make the right decision for them. For employees, it can allow an understanding of what paths to resolution of an issue are available from discussion and negotiation of an agreement to litigation.
SpringLaw assists both employers and employees in working through difficult workplace issues and has a number of tools empowering clients to use technology and arm themselves with the knowledge they need to assess their needs and options themselves. As a long-time proponent of access to justice, we feel strongly that with the right strategic tools and guidance many clients can advocate for themselves and lower their legal costs.
We have subscription-based and DIY online solutions, on top of our bespoke legal services, available to our clients – we invite you to contact us to continue the conversation.