|Free Employment Policies Written by
by J. Talbott, LL.B.
Drafting employment policies often vexes employers and their managers. After all, if you make a mistake drafting a harassment policy, you may inadvertently contravene local human rights laws, and may incur expensive liability.
But, there is one overlooked source of policy drafting advice—readily available and free. Law societies—those bodies which regulate and govern the practice of law across Canada —have created a push to provide lawyers with information on how to run their businesses—large or small—in the same way model corporations have done for many years.
As a result, many sample employment policies are often available on the internet; they are free of charge, and are an excellent starting point for employers looking for sample policies. (Who says lawyers never give free advice?)
Broken down into topics, here are some sample employment policies that may be useful, depending on where you live and which human rights laws apply to your workplace:
Canada’s law societies offer several draft policies to assist law firms in meeting human rights obligations. In particular, the Alberta Law Society offers a comprehensive and thoughtful explanation of how to draft maternity leave policies. One should take note, though, that these guidelines may be out of date now that the federal government has announced a woman may claim employment insurance benefits for up to one year in order to give birth and raise a child. Other provincial law societies also provide information on the same topic.
Equality in Employment Interviews
Concerned that lawyers may inadvertently ask the wrong types of questions during hiring interviews—like “Do you plan on having children?” or my favourite (asked of me when I was looking for work in an Alberta law firm) “How much do you weigh?”—Alberta’s governing body has produced some excellent and thorough advice on how to ask questions in a job interview. Though focused directly at law firms, much of the advice here is useful to any employer in Canada.
Guidelines for Gender Inclusive Communications
Use of gendered language, such as nouns like chairman and fireman or in the use of personal pronouns like he, has created an atmosphere of exclusion in some workplaces. Certainly, there are no laws requiring people twist their syntax beyond recognition in order to meet human rights in Canada. However, a gentle reminder to staff to write their policies and mass communications in gender-neutral prose can go a long way to establishing the good intentions of an employer if ever brought before a human rights tribunal. In any event it makes good sense to try and include everyone in your communications.
Alberta’s governing body has adopted a set of useful guidelines on this point. Have a look.
Alternative Work Schedules
If you do not have a policy on alternative work schedules, you should get one quick. These policies alert employees to the fact that their employer has their interests at heart. Parents with child-rearing commitments, and those who are ill and need to take occasional time off work will want to know they have a right to ask for a modified work schedule to meet their concerns.
Alberta’s law society has produced a large set of guidelines on this point, including a sample policy.
Harassment policies are an absolute necessity, even in small workplaces. Too many employers in small, friendly companies have been caught off guard when an employee complains of sexual harassment. Without a policy, you will have to scramble to deal with such a complaint.
Alberta’s law society provides a sample harassment policy.
Promotion of Accommodation of Disability
All employers have a duty to accommodate their employees’ disabilities up to the point of undue hardship. This is a heavy burden, requiring employers to either become experts in accommodation or to obtain outside expertise when required. However, having a policy in place on accommodations will go a long way to demonstrating an employer’s commitment to upholding human rights laws and will encourage the development of a respectful work environment.
The Law Society of Upper Canada, Ontario’s regulatory body for lawyers, seems to be the only law society that has dealt specifically with this issue in its materials. See the material here. Scroll down to Model Policies and select Guide to Promoting Accommodations within Law Firms.
The final word
On a final note, never assume any of these policies are iron clad and will hold up in any court or tribunal. Some of the sample policies are a few years old, and others are drafted with only one legal jurisdiction in mind. Use them as a basis for creating your own policies, but never slavishly adhere to any of them.
If you have any questions about this article, please do not hesitate to contact me, below. I do not, however, take responsibility for keeping the links in this article current.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
J. Talbott, LL.B., is a labour lawyer, consultant, and founder of the Ottawa firm, Labour Relations Consultants. He was formerly Director of Human Resources for a unionized, national non-profit organization. His contact information is given below.
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