Employment law is becoming an increasingly important field as the traditional assumptions of workplace politics give way to more progressive ways of doing business. In the last 10 years alone, many new issues have arisen that have never been fully addressed before.
Despite the fact that Canadian employment law has a solid foundation in jurisprudence, there are always new problems to deal with. Human and personal rights issues are currently at the forefront, meaning that employers now have to include policies around transgender issues, marijuana, sexual harassment and more.
This can be tricky fields to navigate and employment lawyers are there to help solve issues as they arrive, in addition to having the foresight to prevent them in the future.
1. Harassment & Sexual Violence
Sexual misconduct has taken centre stage in the media lately, with a slew of allegations coming forth that have put many companies and organizations in a position where they have to make very big decisions on a moment’s notice. Perhaps in Canada, the Ghomeshi affair at CBC highlighted the issue in a shocking manner that got a lot of people thinking about what else may be happening behind the scenes. And in the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein scandal in the United States, it seems that new cases are being presented almost daily.
Of course, sexual harassment has long been prohibited in Canadian workplaces, but as high-profile incidents become more and more common, many employers are taking a second look at their policies and procedures in this area. This is a wise move to take. The fact that this is occupying such a central place in the social consciousness means that settlements in sexual harassment situations are increasing and stronger measures need to be taken to prevent these incidents in the first place.
The most important thing here is prevention, and employers are urged to have a strong set of policies and procedures in place and make sure there are properly understood by everyone. One the policies take effect, it is crucial that there is heightened vigilance and monitoring of employee and management behaviours to ensure compliance.
Another controversial subject that is about to take us into uncharted waters is the legalization of marijuana. This move has encouraged many employers to review these policies in a number of areas, including the rights of employees to use cannabis products while not on the job, the ability of employers to test for impairment, and the use of medically prescribed marijuana products in or near the workplace.
All of this means that employers need to find a balance between their interest in being able to drug test employees while respecting their autonomy. Mandatory workplace drug testing is still not allowed unless there is an established substance abuse problem, even if the workplace is one with heightened safety concerns. We are likely to see new laws and regulations unfold as the realities of legalization make themselves known.
3. Letting someone go
Sometimes a working relationship just no longer works. This can be caused by any number of factors and it is a normal part of doing business. That being said, it is crucial these terminations are done in proper and legal fashion. Employment lawyers are there to ensure that all the proper steps are taken to avoid lawsuits and damages later. Companies need to establish and adhere to their own clearly stated policies regarding what constitutes inappropriate conduct worthy of dismissal.
The latest trend is to have summary judgements rather than a trial for civil matter like severance pay or notice period complaints. This means that it is in employer’s best interest to settle faster, and why it is crucial to have an employment lawyer present to make sure the proper steps are taken.