If you’re like most entrepreneurs, you founded your company with a clear goal in mind: changing the world—or at least your industry—in a meaningful way. Whether you were trying to build a better mousetrap, provide outstanding services or develop some game-changing technological innovation, the focus was on making that dream a reality.
Generating significant revenue and maximizing profit were key operational considerations, of course, but probably came second to the rush of building a business from nothing and watching it grow. Then reality struck. Labour and employment law compliance obligations mounted as your team expanded, added human resources policies and procedures meant more red tape and the nimbleness that defined your culture in the early start-up phase became harder to maintain.
If you’re like most CEOs, human resources and legislative compliance were probably at the bottom of your priority list and explains why these important considerations often fall by the wayside. Add legal volatility to the mix, and it’s no wonder many business leaders cringe at the very thought of falling in line with their province’s labour and employment laws.
Indeed, to many business leaders, it seems like traditional HR policy and compliance norms have been turned upside down. Many are struggling to keep their organizations afloat in a sea of constant employment standards change, unsure how to cope.
It’s an issue causing sleepless nights for entrepreneurs, especially those paying close attention to the shifting HR law playing field in provinces such as Ontario, where regime change at Queen’s Park and subsequent rounds of sweeping legislative reversals have left many HR professionals and business owners struggling to keep up. While the recent passage of Bill 47, the Making Ontario Open for Business Act, 2018, dialed back earlier labour and employment law reforms passed in the contentious Bill 148, The Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017—thus pleasing Ontario’s business community—it also frustrated companies that had to once again revise their workplace policy manuals after taking pains to comply with the previous law.
The Doug Ford government has since indefinitely delayed implementation of the Pay Transparency Act—which would have required larger employers to publicize their wage grids, and permitted employees to discuss wages with their co-workers—further complicating matters for HR teams, even if that reversal, too, was welcome. Many business owners and operators are wondering when this upheaval will end, and whether they really need to spend time caring until it does. The short answer: probably never and, yes, unless they’re willing to sacrifice their organization’s bottom-line performance.
The reality is that governments can change every four years (or sooner), and Ontario, in particular, has seen policies shift dramatically from that of the previous Liberal government under Kathleen Wynne, which was determined to modernize the Employment Standards Act, 2000, despite pleas from the business community that the HR law changes were too comprehensive and too swift to allow cash-strapped employers to remain competitive. Odds are that at some point in the future, a new government will take a vastly different approach than Doug Ford’s Conservatives, creating further uncertainty and triggering another round of costly HR compliance requirements for the province’s SME community. The story is similar in jurisdictions across the country.
Of greater significance is the question of why, as a business leader or HR professional, this upheaval is worthy of your attention.
Legislative compliance is essential because organizations that take a head-in-the-sand approach can face major risk exposures to everything from lawsuits to human rights challenges. Put simply, employees are savvy. Many will assert rights to various employment standards entitlements—even obscure ones—that can easily catch organizations off guard. Any ensuing legal action can be remarkably destabilizing, will often invite added scrutiny from the Ministry of Labour and can also compromise an employer’s credibility. That last part is especially important for companies that compete for talent in sectors such as technology.
Employees are in a seller’s labour market as Canada’s unemployment rate continues to hover at record lows. In the current business environment, attracting and retaining top talent is a key benchmark of business success. Elite performers can virtually hand-pick their next employer, which is why it’s crucial to position your organization as an employer of choice—the kind of place where the most desirable candidates would want to work.
Top employers are typically the ones that take a proactive approach to communicating expectations, obligations and entitlements through employment agreements and workplace policies. In fact, they go a step further to create a workplace that encourages idea-sharing and innovation, supports employee growth with career-development opportunities, offers its people challenging work, provides constructive and professional feedback, fairly compensates, and makes a point of defining, living and breathing its core values. Notably, these organizations are intentional in their HR policies and procedures, even exceeding legislative requirements as a matter of practice.
While we might all feel that HR compliance has become more complicated in recent years—because it has—we must also remember that our organizations can turn what seems to be a costly, time-consuming drag on productivity into an HR advantage over our less-astute industry rivals.
If it’s true that chaos breeds business opportunity, this is one worth seizing.
Laura Williams is the founder and principal of Williams HR Law and Williams HR Consulting in Markham, Ont.
Laura boasts more than two decades of experience providing strategic advice and legal representation to employers on a full range of labour and employment law matters. Her core areas of practice include pre-termination advice and strategy, labour relations, workplace safety and insurance, wrongful dismissal litigation, workplace investigations, human rights, disability management, workplace violence and harassment compliance, privacy compliance, employment standards, workplace policies, employment contracts, restrictive covenants and workplace culture recovery.
Please Visit: http://www.williamshrlaw.com