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The Importance of Employee Handbooks in Ontario

In Ontario and federal workplaces, an employee handbook can go hand in hand with an employment contract. The employer may have certain policies that would not fit into the employment contract or make it overly lengthy. This includes policies for, but not limited to, health and safety, workplace hazardous materials, anti-harassment and discrimination, and accessibility. Such policies are a perfect inclusion in a complimentary employee handbook. Considering the importance of employee handbooks, employers should be aware of the benefits of having them and the risks involved if they do not.

What are the risks if you do not have an employee handbook?

If an employer does not have an employee handbook for their workplace policies, employees may not be aware of said policies. Employees may also remain unaware of where or how to find the details of a specific policy. Additionally, there is a risk of employees being informed of inconsistent policies if they are not provided in writing to everyone at the workplace.

These issues can lead to employees not performing or acting in the specific manner the employer wishes, without the employee even being aware of issues or concerns. An employee may also feel arbitrarily targeted should they receive discipline for violations of a workplace policy they were not made aware of or that was not easily accessible. 

How does an employee handbook compliment an employment agreement?

Employee handbooks can be made legally enforceable in the same manner of an employment agreement and in fact be considered an extension of one. There are many factors involved when considering the enforceability of the employee handbook, such as, but not limited to, when the employee received it, whether the policies included comply with Ontario or federal laws – such as Ontario’s Human Rights Code, or the Canadian Human Rights Act, whether the employment agreement references it, or whether the employee agreed to the contents of it. 

An employee handbook can assist in expanding on what the employment contract is unable to cover, such as the specifics of workplace policies, how discipline is handled – where the manner of progressive discipline, if applicable, can be outlined, and reporting structures. If an employment contract attempts to cover all workplace policies and details of same, the length may discourage the prospective employee or cause them to feel overwhelmed before commencing employment. 

How can an employee handbook help avoid legal liability?

An employee handbook containing anti harassment and discrimination policies can in fact assist an employer in avoiding liability at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. Depending on the facts of the matter, having clearly defined and easily accessible policies in this area can demonstrate the employer acted in accordance with its policies and not in a discriminatory manner towards an employee. Additionally, the employer could point to policies demonstrating how to formally report harassment or discrimination if an employee alleges discrimination but did not follow the employee handbook’s guidance.

Certain policies, such as policies surrounding termination of employment, could be fleshed out further in an employee handbook even if the clause appears unenforceable in the employment agreement itself. This can assist the employer in avoiding an employee becoming entitled to common law reasonable notice in a wrongful dismissal claim at court.

Considering every legal matter is unique and fact specific, employers should speak with an employment lawyer to ensure their workplace policies and employee handbook can protect the employer from legal liability for various circumstances that may arise.

Contact Us

If you are an employer and have questions about employee handbooks or want to ensure your employee handbook is legally enforceable, our team of experienced workplace lawyers at Achkar Law can help. Contact us by phone toll-free at +1 (800) 771-7882 or email us at [email protected] and we would be happy to assist.

If you are a small or medium-sized company looking for full-service support with same day response, visit our CLO Program page for our strategic solutions.