The Importance of Workplace Policies in Ontario

Workplace Policies in Ontario: Crafting Effective Company Policies

A well-crafted employee handbook benefits both employers and employees. It serves as a guide, outlining workplace policies, and helps employers convey their company’s goals, procedures, and expectations. At the same time, employees gain a clear understanding of what’s expected of them.

When workplace policies and expectations are clear, it creates a positive working environment where everyone is on the same page. This also helps reduce the company’s legal liability.

Typically, companies provide employees with their policies when they start their job, but policies can also be introduced or changed after the initial hiring.

In Ontario, workplace policies hold significant importance. Some policies are mandatory by law, while others are strongly recommended based on common practices. This article will highlight the essential policies mandated by law and those recommended as best practices in Ontario.

Mandatory Workplace Policies in Ontario Under Statute

In Ontario, there are several mandatory policies for employers, depending on factors such as the workplace industry, nature of the workplace tasks, and the number of employees. It is essential for employers to ensure these policies are legally compliant. Due to ongoing legal changes and amendments, these mandatory policies should be subject to annual reviews.

Below are some examples of mandatory workplace policies in Ontario:

  1. health and safety policy, including workplace harassment and workplace violence policy;
  2. Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System and hazard-specific policies;
  3. accessibility policy;
  4. emergency preparedness and response policy;
  5. pay equity policy and plan; and
  6. non-smoking policy.

Depending on certain workplace criteria, employers must have the above policies in place as a matter of law. While most employers might not believe they need these policies in place, employers who are found to be missing mandatory policies may be subjected to penalties.

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Strongly Recommended Workplace Policies in Ontario Under Common Law

While some policies are not mandated, courts and tribunals have emphasized the importance of certain policies in often contested areas of law. These policies prevent employee misconduct, set workplace standards, limit employer liability, and demonstrate the employer’s due diligence.

Some examples of these strongly recommended policies include:

  1. anti-harassment, anti-discrimination, and accommodation policies;
  2. benefits and bonus plan policies;
  3. progressive discipline policy;
  4. alcohol and drug policy;
  5. code of conduct policy;
  6. privacy policy;
  7. social media and computer use policies; and
  8. overtime policy.

Such policies are not only beneficial for an employee’s understanding of standards and expectations, these policies are often relied on by employers when disputes arise.

Workplace Policies Best Practices

When drafting and implementing policies, it is best practice to ensure they are accessible, understandable, and enforceable.

Policies should be accessible to the employee for review before signing, and should be revisited during orientation and training. Some employers find it helpful to test their employees before requiring them to sign any policy to verify that employees understand the contents.

To avoid any confusion, policies should include clear, reasonable, and detailed expectations, as well as procedural outlines. Policies are easy to understand when there is consistency between the policy and the company’s objectives.

The enforceability of a workplace policies depends on several factors, such as whether the policy complies with the law, whether the employee was provided with any (fresh) consideration, whether the employee was provided with an opportunity to review the policy, and whether the employee accepted the policy.

Employers should also ensure that their upper management team reviews and signs their policies as well, to keep everyone on the same page. Employers should maintain up-to-date records, as well as have a legal professional review their policies on an ongoing basis. This will help demonstrate the enforceability of the policies in case any disputes arise.


A well-written employee handbook is essential for any company. Effective policies can improve productivity and workplace consistency by clarify expectations, providing transparency, and encouraging understanding.

Regardless of the growth stage of a company, mandatory and recommended policies should be implemented and revised according to the business’s needs and in accordance with  changing laws. Failing to do so may open the employer up to liability under statute, as well as during any litigated dispute.

The proper implementation of a policy is just as important as how well the policy is drafted. Often, employers believe they have an enforceable policy or employee handbook, but such documents turn out to be invalid due to improper drafting or implementation. Consulting a legal professional will help to avoid penalties or liability down the road.

Contact Us

If you are an employer looking to draft or review your policies, or an employee seeking to clarify your rights, our team of experienced workplace lawyers can help.

Contact us at 1 (800) 771-7882, or email [email protected] and we would be happy to assist.