Creating Timely Employment Policies in Ontario

The rapid implementation of recent employment laws can be difficult to comprehend for business leaders unfamiliar with their subject matter. In this article, we examine the importance of new COVID-19 and right-to-disconnect legislation, and discuss how to effectively integrate it into our workplace policies.

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During a recent EMC event entitled "Vaccination Policies & Other Issues: COVID-19 Legal Considerations for Manufacturers”, Damien Bunstma, one of Ontario’s leading legal advisors in employment law, spoke to the importance of recent employment legislation developments in Ontario’s workplace policies. While this article does reference Mr. Bunstma’s recommendations given during the event, it does not constitute legal advice. To determine your rights and obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, Labour Relations Act, and Employment Standards Act, and their according regulations, please contact your legal counsel or refer to Ontario legislation.

As the early 2020s progresses, a number of new issues have come to light in Canada’s employment landscape that previously saw neglect in typical workplace procedure. The obvious topic on every business leader’s mind is the COVID-19 pandemic — while there has been significant progress in mitigating the spread of the COVID-19 virus, it remains a constant threat to all workers’ health. Recently, though, another once-unfamiliar issue has come to light for Ontario’s employers — the right of their employees to disconnect from work. The province’s legislation on employee availability was passed at the end of 2021, and leaders that do not implement this development into their employment policies could find themselves violating Ontario employment law. Let’s discuss what both of these topics mean for Ontario’s manufacturers, and determine how to accurately reflect them in our employee documentation.

Over the past two years, a number of solutions have been introduced into society to lessen the impact and spread of the COVID-19 virus. The most effective of these solutions are heightened health and safety practices — wearing masks, social distancing, etc. — and vaccines. While employee opinions on these subjects may differ wildly, business leaders must realize that they have both the right and the responsibility to keep their workplaces safe from the effects of COVID-19. As such, employers should remain constantly aware of the preventative resources available to them at all times, and should make health and safety decisions that take productivity and worker well-being into equal consideration. Employers should also realize the difference between provincial mandates and best practices — while the former needs to be followed to comply with health and safety law, the latter does not, and can be weighed against the various contextual factors of each individual workplace. When creating employment policies surrounding the COVID-19 virus, manufacturers should consider governmental mandates as a foundation to build their own ruleset upon, and should communicate frequently with their employee base to disseminate updates, collect feedback, and ensure compliance.

Another area that business leaders must keep up-to-date on is in Ontario’s newly-introduced right-to-disconnect legislation. Beginning in June of 2022, right-to-disconnect laws outline an employee’s right to completely cease working – including replying to phone calls and email – after having met a defined quota of on-the-job hours. As technology allows more and more workers to perform their duties remotely, the lines between work and home can blur, which may have a significantly negative impact on employees’ mental health. When defining right-to-disconnect instructions in their employee policies, leaders should realize that there is no universally-accepted amount of time that an employee must be working for. Ontario’s labour experts recommend that employees should work for no longer than eight hours each day, but employers do have the opportunity to revise this model (such as offering 10-hour shifts for 4 days a week) as long as it is mutually agreed upon with their labour force. As with all employment policy updates, right-to-disconnect instructions should be defined clearly, made accessible, and communicated to employees prior to their implementation, which will eliminate misunderstandings and potential liability.

The ever-shifting nature of employment legislation can be a challenge to keep up with, but business leaders should realize that these rules are put into place for the long-term benefit of their organizations. By creating thorough employment policies that reflect timely areas of concerns for workers, employers strengthen the bonds they build with their labour force, stoking motivation and trust throughout the corporate ladder.

For future discussions on the topic of creating effective employment policies, contact Leah Nacua, EMC’s Manufacturing Consortium Manager for Toronto and the GTA. Attend EMC events frequently for knowledge and expertise supporting Canadian manufacturing.

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