Top Five Tips to Navigating the Employment Law Minefield
- Building the foundation: compliance and infrastructure
Every successful organization is built upon a strong foundation. On the employment law front, this means implementing carefully drafted employee handbooks and employment agreements at the beginning of your employees’ lifecycles. Not only will this ensure that you are not opening yourself up to indefinite liability, but these valuable documents also help introduce employees to the organization’s culture, mission and values and help drive consistent customer service, work habits, and company objectives. Furthermore, providing each employee with an enforceable employment agreement with a legally vetted, ironclad termination clause before they start working will eliminate any surprises and help mitigate risk in the event that the employee exits the company.
- Hire slow and fire fast
One of the key principles that we consistently reiterate to our clients is to “hire slow, fire fast.” Taking the time to effectively hire the right individuals for your business is one of the most important drivers for organizational success. With that said, nothing brings a company down more than a bad apple within your organization. This makes it imperative for you to act swiftly when the decision to terminate is made. While the decision may not be easy — your organization will benefit greatly from your focused and prudent approach.
- Frequent and meaningful staff communications
Having a strong set of company values is vital to the success of your organization. It is important to create, reiterate and most importantly, consistently live by your company’s values. This means that the company’s values should be intertwined with how your employees conduct their work, how they interact with each other, and how they interact with their customers. It is also important to implement a performance management system to ensure that your employees are living by the same set of values. Management should ensure they have an open line of communication with employees to provide real-time feedback to help them improve upon their strengths and develop their areas of opportunity. Clearly outlining performance and behaviour expectations, as well as having honest and direct communication with staff will allow your organization to get ahead of potential issues before they arise.
- Everything you want to know about accommodation but were afraid to ask
Effectively responding to an accommodation request can be one of the most complex and nuanced areas for a Canadian organization to navigate. The Human Rights Code (the “Code”) explicitly outlines several prohibited grounds based on personal characteristics of groups that employers have a legal duty to accommodate. In summary, accommodation requires a balancing of the right of an employee to be free from discrimination and the right of an employer to operate a productive workplace. While the duty to accommodate is not limitless, the Code requires employers to accommodate the needs of those employees up to the point of “undue hardship”. When employers are assessing the need for accommodation, the key is to remember that accommodation is a delicate balancing act that requires a reasonable, not a perfect solution.
- Terminations: The good, the bad, the ugly
Effectively approaching and managing employee terminations is the single most daunting task facing business owners. This is largely due to the fact that a mismanaged termination can be very costly and open up your organization to indefinite liability. It is important for employers to remember that outside of motivations driven by discriminatory practices, businesses operating in British Columbia are legally permitted to terminate employees for any number of reasons. However, to sufficiently mitigate the risk of potential claims and to ensure that your organization is complying with the British Columbia’s Employment Standards Act, we recommend seeking out the assistance of a seasoned employment lawyer or HR professional to assess the enforceability of your employment agreements, and guide you through your termination obligations.