By Betty Psarris
Carefully drafted employment policies are the foundation for an effective and efficient workplace.
Regardless of the size of the business, these documents give employers the opportunity to set expectations for their workers and manage risks. But it is not only the pursuit of a healthy workplace that should motivate businesses to get policies in place: Ontario law mandates the creation of certain written policies by employers in the province, backed up by the power to impose stiff penalties for non-compliance.
We recognize that it can be difficult for new and smaller employers to know where to begin on this topic, so here is a primer on some of the standard employment policies that should be part of any organization’s collection.
Health and safety policy
Most of Ontario’s required policies find their origins in the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), which applies to virtually all workplaces in the province other than those that are regulated federally — those exceptions include post offices, airports and banks.
The Act’s central requirement is for a health and safety policy that reflects the management’s commitment to the protection of its workers. The contents will differ depending on the nature of the workplace and the types of activities that employees are required to carry out, but the policy must be reviewed at least once a year and the employer must have an implementation program in place.
Only employers with six or more regular employees need to have a written copy of the policy that is made available to workers, but those with fewer employees may be ordered to put it in writing by the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development.
Workplace violence and harassment policies
Back in 2009, the legislature at Queen’s Park passed Bill 168, a landmark piece of legislation that amended the OHSA by requiring employers to develop risk assessments and policies regarding workplace violence and harassment.
The legislation was designed in part to address failings identified in a string of high-profile incidents of workplace violence, including the murder of a Windsor, Ont. nurse by her former boyfriend — a doctor at the same hospital.
Under the amendments, staff must be trained on workplace violence and harassment policies reviewed at least once a year, with programs set up to implement each of them.
The law sets out a number of required elements for the programs related to workplace violence and harassment, including measures and procedures for workers to control risks, report incidents and summon help when an incident occurs, as well as information about how the complaints will be investigated and dealt with by the employer.
Human rights policy
Ontario’s Human Rights Code has a long history, existing in some form since 1962. It prohibits discrimination on a number of protected grounds, including age, race, creed, disability, family status gender identity and sexual orientation.
Although all Ontario employers must abide by the Code, at no stage in its existence have they been required to develop a human rights or anti-discrimination policy. Still, we highly recommend that employers put a policy in writing, just in case a complaint is ever made against them.
If the Human Rights Tribunal finds that an organization breached the Code, then the failure to have a policy may be something that the adjudicator takes into account, potentially leading to a higher award of damages. The tribunal also has the power to order an employer to implement an anti-discrimination policy and provide training on anti-discrimination in the workplace.
When the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act passed in 2005, it set a 2025 target for the entire province to be fully accessible, with a multi-stage implementation gradually expanding its application to public and private sector organizations of all sizes.
To comply with the law currently, any business with employees must develop a policy to help it achieve its accessibility goals. However, only employers with 50 employees or more are required to document the policy in writing and make them available to workers and customers.
Disconnecting from work and electronic monitoring policies
In just the last year, Doug Ford’s provincial government has added two new policy requirements for Ontario employers under the Employment Standards Act.
Under the updated law, which only affects employers with 25 employees or more, organizations must provide written policies on “disconnecting from work” to their employees, as well as policies on “electronic monitoring” that detail employers’ tracking of their worker’s electronic devices.
We have dedicated a separate column to these recent legislative developments.
In the meantime, if you want to know more or your organization needs help developing required or recommended employment policies, feel free to contact myself or my co-founder Madeleine Loewenberg for guidance. We would be happy to help you.