The Importance of Workplace Policies

Having a clearly drafted employee handbook is beneficial to both employers and employees. An employee handbook outlines the various workplace policies, and allows employers to communicate their company’s goals, procedures, policies, and expectations. In turn, employees have a clear understanding of how to meet the standards expected of them.

By ensuring that workplace policies and expectations are clear, businesses can foster a positive working environment where everyone is one the same page, while reducing its own liability.

Company policies are typically provided to employees at the commencement of their employment, but may be introduced or amended after the hiring period.

While employers tend to overlook the importance of workplace policies, some policies are mandatory under statute, or strongly recommended under common law. This article outlines various policies that are mandated or strongly recommended in Ontario, and which best practices to follow.

Mandatory Policies 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 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.

Strongly Recommended Policies 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.

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.

Conclusion

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 liablity 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 penalities or liability down the road.

Contact Us for Help

If you are an employer looking to draft or review your policies, or an employee seeking to clarify your rights, our team of experienced employment and human rights lawyers can help. Contact us at 1 (800) 771-7882, or email [email protected] and we would be happy to assist.

If you are a small or medium-sized company looking for full-service support, visit our CLO program page for our strategic solutions.

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Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to serve as, or should be construed as legal advice, and is only to provide general information. It is in no way particular to your case and should not be relied on in any way. No portion or use of this blog will establish a lawyer-client relationship with the author or any related party. Should you require legal advice for your particular situation, fill out the contact form, call 1-(800)771-7882, or email [email protected].

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