FAQ: New Legislative Changes to Personal Emergency Leave (including Sick Days)
Since the Government of Ontario introduced proposed changes to the province’s labor laws — many of which have come into effect per Bill 148 — much of the discussion (and debate) has focused on the increase in minimum wage, which is now $14/hour and will climb to $15/hour on January 1, 2019.
However, there is another significant adjustment that is arguably not getting as much coverage and attention, but for many organizations will have a significant impact on staffing and costs: changes to personal emergency leave rules and sick day entitlements.
To help organizations get ahead of these major changes vs. get blindsided by them in the weeks and months ahead — which is not just costly and time consuming, but can damage employee relations and trigger turnover and recruitment challenges — we have prepared the following FAQ:
- What has changed as of January 1, 2018?
Employees are now entitled to 10 personal emergency leave days per calendar year, of which the first two are paid. The leave does not have to be consecutive.
- Does unused personal emergency leave accrue?
No. Employees cannot bank personal emergency leave days in the current year for potential use later.
- Does the 10 days of personal emergency leave apply to all employees, or just those that have passed a 3-month probationary period?
The legislation applies to all employees who have been employed for one week or longer.
- Do the changes apply to all employees?
The changes apply to most employees. However, there are three categories of workers that are subject to special rules under the new legislation:
- Certain professionals cannot take personal emergency leave in situations where doing so would constitute a dereliction of duty or professional misconduct. Further information is available here.
- Construction workers who receive at least 0.8% of their regular pay (wages or hourly rate) as personal leave pay on each cheque are not entitled to paid personal emergency leave. However, they remain entitled to unpaid personal emergency leave.
- Unionized automotive sector workers are not entitled to paid personal emergency leave. They continue to be entitled to seven unpaid sick days (personal or family), and three unpaid bereavement days per calendar year.
- What constitutes “personal emergency leave” under the legislation?
Personal emergency leave falls into two categories:
- Personal illness, injury or medical emergency.
- Death, illness, injury, medical emergency or urgent matter relating to certain family members.
For a detailed definition of each category click here.
- Can employers still ask employees to submit a doctor’s note to justify personal emergency leave?
There is confusion around this issue, because some media reports have suggested that doctor’s notes are effectively banned. This is not true. Here are the facts:
- Employers cannot ask employees for a doctor’s note to justify personal emergency leave for a personal or family-related illness, up to the first 10 days of such leave each calendar year.
- Under the legislation, a doctor’s note refers to a note written by a physician, registered nurse, or psychologist. Employers can still ask for notes from other kinds of health practitioners, such as a dentist, naturopath, physiotherapist, RMT, and so on, provided that the request is reasonable in the circumstances.
- Can employers ask for any documentation to justify personal emergency leave?
Yes. Employers can ask employees who wish to take (or have started taking) personal emergency leave to provide evidence that is reasonable to the specific circumstances. For example, an employer may ask an employee taking personal emergency leave due to the death of a family member, to submit a copy of a death certificate.
- What are the employee’s obligations to provide notice of taking personal emergency leave?
The nature of emergency employee leave is that it is unplanned (and unwelcome), and as such expecting employees to provide advance notice in all cases is unrealistic.
With this being said, employees are expected to inform their employer of their intention to take personal emergency leave. If this cannot be done before the leave starts, then employees should notify their employer ASAP. This does not have to be in writing, as oral notice is sufficient.
It is critical for employers to keep in mind that they cannot insist that employees request personal emergency leave in advance, nor can they penalize them in any way for failing to do so.
- What rights do employees who take personal emergency leave have?
Employees who take personal emergency leave are entitled to the same rights as employees who take maternity or parental leave. Specifically, such employees cannot be fired, penalized or threatened in any way for taking, or planning to take, personal emergency leave.
- Can employees take partial personal emergency leave — e.g. 2-hours or half a day?
Yes. In these cases, the employee would be entitled to the salary they earned while working, and personal emergency leave pay, provided that it was available (i.e. they had not used their two paid days in the calendar year).
To learn more about ensuring that your HR team is on top of all legislative changes — including but not limited to those related to the new personal emergency leave provisions — contact the PIVOTAL team today.
5 Best Practices for Onboarding Seasonal Workers
Whether they need to increase capacity in their retail or online store, help tax filers submit returns on time, ensure that landscape crews are properly staffed — and the list of examples goes on — businesses of all sizes rely on seasonal workers to increase capacity, meet customer expectations and maximize revenues.
However, despite the fact that the tenure of seasonal workers is (obviously) temporary, businesses still need to implement a formal onboarding process to ensure they meet compliance obligations, achieve administrative standards, and just as importantly: ensure that the new people on their roster are orientated and engaged. Otherwise, performance problems and excessive turnover are likely to erupt, and businesses can earn a reputation of being a less-than-great employer (to put things mildly), which makes it even tougher and costlier to recruit and retain suitable seasonal workers in the future.
To avoid these pitfalls, here are five proven and practical best practices for onboarding seasonal workers:
- Have an Orientation Process
Typically, seasonal employees are expected to make a contribution quickly — in many cases, the same day that they’re hired. While there’s nothing wrong with a short ramp-up (provided that it’s justified for the role), there should nevertheless be an orientation process in place that includes health and safety overviews, compliance obligations, reporting requirements, and so on.
- Engage from the Outset
Since businesses tend to hire seasonal workers when things are very busy (or just about to become very busy), there’s often a tendency to skip over what some view as optional “nice-to-have” elements of the onboarding process, such as introductions and workplace tours. However, while this may seem pragmatic, it’s counter-productive — since it can trigger disengagement from the start, and lead to turnover down the road. Making the right first impression isn’t just good manners: it’s good business.
- Empower with Necessary Tools
Just like their full-time counterparts, seasonal workers need required tools to do their jobs. This may include safety equipment, technology devices (e.g. corporate-supplied tablet), login credentials to access software systems, and so on. It’s vital to have these tools in place and ready for seasonal workers to hit the ground running.
If this isn’t possible (e.g. VoIP phones are on back order) or appropriate (e.g. training needs to take place first) then that’s fine. In these cases, businesses simply need to explain this to their seasonal workers, so that they know where they stand and what’s in store.
- Assign Mentors
One of the most valuable strategies for optimizing seasonal worker onboarding — and minimizing risks and costs — is assigning mentors. While it’s ideal if mentors work on the same team as mentees, if this isn’t practical then the next best option is to assign the task to individuals who can point seasonal workers in the right direction. And of course, mentors must have the right personality for this task. If they’re cynical, arrogant, hostile or just plain uninterested in the role and responsibility, then instead of helping seasonal workers they’ll end up harming them — and by extension, the organization as-a-whole.
- Pay Attention to Offboarding
Seasonal workers should be interviewed or surveyed (or both) when they’re offboarding. In addition to generating valuable feedback to enhance how seasonal workers are onboarded and supported, businesses can likely improve other areas as well, such as workflows, branding, and so on.
What’s more, a legitimate and meaningful offboarding experience — complete with a thank you card signed by the CEO, gift certificate, corporate-branded item, or some other meaningful gift or gesture — can go a long way towards encouraging talented seasonal workers to re-apply in the future, and recommending the organization to their network (both as an employer to work for, and a business to buy from).
At PIVOTAL, we help businesses define, implement and optimize their seasonal worker onboarding strategy. In addition, our in-house recruiting experts can source and screen seasonal workers who are qualified, motivated and ready to make a contribution — whether their tenure is scheduled to last a few weeks, or several months. Indeed, many of the seasonal workers we’ve introduced to our clients are now valued full-time employees and key leaders.
To learn more, contact us today for your complimentary consultation.
What Employers Need to Know About Joint Health and Safety Committees
A joint health and safety committee (JHSC) is comprised of both worker and employer representatives, who work collaboratively to improve health and safety conditions across the work environment. Typical JHSC tasks include identifying health and safety issues (occuring, alleged and potential), inspecting the workplace, raising awareness of health and safety, facilitating training, and more.
When is a JHSC Mandatory?
In Ontario, a JHSC is required under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) in the following cases:
- The workplace regularly employs 20 or more workers. (Note: workplaces with 6-19 workers are required to have one worker-designated health and safety representative, but not a JHSC. However, if designated substance regulations apply, or if a Director’s order has been issued under Section 33 of the OHSA, then a JHSC is required regardless of the number of workers.)
- The workplace is a construction project at which 20 or more workers are regularly employed, and who are expected to work for at least three months.
- The Minister of Labour has ordered the employer to create a JHSC.
- The employer is a farming operator that regularly employs 20 or more workers who are engaged in activities related to any of the following: greenhouse duties, or the farming of poultry, cattle, hogs, dairy or mushrooms.
Key Employer JHSC Responsibilities
Employers that are required to establish a JHSC must commit to collaborating with workers, and playing an active and appropriate role in identifying, mitigating and/or eliminating workplace health and safety hazards. The Government of Ontario points out seven key ways that employers must demonstrate this commitment:
- Supporting the creation and maintenance of a JHSC where one is required under the OHSA.
- Choosing committee members to represent the employer on the JHSC. All such members must exercise managerial functions.
- Supporting and cooperating with all JHSC members to carry out designated functions.
- Providing the JHSC with any information related to real or potential hazards in the work environment, along with information regarding standards and practices implemented in similar industries.
- Promptly providing the committee with a copy of all reports or orders issued by the Ministry of Labor inspector, which arises from any work-related incident involving occupational illness, injury or death.
- Working closely and consulting with all JHSC members to develop and upgrade health and safety programs and policies, including those that involve training.
- Authorizing a JHSC member who represents workers the right to accompany a Ministry of Labour inspector during a workplace inspection.
Penalties for Breaching Violations
It is an offense for any employer, or any individual(s) acting on the employer’s behalf, to violate JHSC-related obligations. This includes giving false information, or attempting to hinder, interfere or in any other manner impede a committee member (or the committee as a whole) from carrying out appropriate duties. Note that the offending action does not necessarily need to be carried out. Merely attempting to do so may be sufficient to constitute a violation under the OHSA.
Penalties for such breaches, which can also include failing to comply with an order from the Ministry of Labour, may include fines of up to $25,000, and imprisonment of no more than 12 months. What’s more, employers may also be subject to additional criminal prosecution that can lead to longer jail sentences. For example, in 2016 the owner of a Toronto construction company was sentenced to 38 months in prison for a 2009 incident in which four workers died, and another was critically injured, after falling 13 stories from a scaffolding outside an apartment building.
Ensuring Your JHSC is Compliant & Effective
Obviously, ensuring worker and workplace health and safety is the right thing to do. However, many employers with good intentions nevertheless face criticisms, sanctions, fines, and in some cases more severe penalties for failing to understand all of their obligations (which constantly change), or overlooking key details (of which there are many). What’s more, the damage that a confrontational or fractured JHSC can have on management-worker relations is often severe, and may lead to a toxic workplace environment characterized by hostility and mistrust.
At PIVOTAL, our in-house human resource experts can help you launch a JHSC if you have recently become obligated to do so under the OHSA, or we can help you review and optimize your current JHSC so that it is fully compliant and demonstrably effective. Contact us today for your free consultation.
In the last few years, many businesses — including high profile enterprises like Google — have said goodbye to conventional offices, and replaced them with what is known in office design circles as an “open office” layout. This is where walls and barriers are eliminated (or kept to a minimum), so that cross-functional teams can co-locate, spontaneously interact, and organically collaborate.
However, something unfortunate has happened on the road to open office happiness: instead of enhancing productivity and performance, and rather than bringing people together, it is DRIVING. EMPLOYEES. CRAZY. In fact, the problem has become so stressful and dysfunctional, that some businesses are reverting back to traditional layouts — including a return to what researchers at the University of Sydney discovered was, is, and probably will always be the most employee-hated member of the office furniture kingdom: cubicles.
Surprisingly, the root cause of this open office counter-revolution isn’t an indictment of the approach itself — because some organizations are indeed enjoying significant results. Do they have a more flexible, creative or open-minded workforce? Do they have softer bean bags and better HVAC systems? Are they just luckier?
None of the above. The common denominator that connects organizations that are reaping the rewards of an open office — and what separates them from their counterparts that are wondering what went wrong — isn’t a question of layout decisions. It’s largely a matter of HR policies.
Considering this, here are three types of HR policies that organizations that have implemented — or are thinking about implementing — an open office should adopt. Otherwise, it’s only a matter of time before what should be a rewarding decision turns into a regretful dilemma:
- Privacy and Confidentiality Policies
Team that are used to openly discussing private or confidential matters (they are not always the same thing) sometimes struggle to adapt to open office environments, where anything and everything can be overheard — even by those doing their best to avoid eavesdropping. Implementing privacy and confidentiality policies can help bridge the gap long enough for a new version of “common sense” to take root.
- Acceptable Workplace Behavior Policies
Pen clickers. Whistlers. LOUD TALKERS. Knuckle crackers. “Who wants a bite of my sardine and garlic submarine?” eaters. These are just some of the people who need to make adjustments in an open office layout, because sounds and smells that were previously blocked or diminished by walls and partitions, are now much more amplified — and far more annoying. Without an appropriate policy in place, instead of resolving complaints appropriately and professionally, employees who’ve reached their breaking point may take matters into their own hands and do something they and everyone else regrets — like scream, throw a laptop through a window, or quit (or all perhaps all three).
- “Heads-Down” Times
One of the biggest complaints that many employees have about open office layouts, is that some folks engage in non-stop gab fests. And even if most of the conversation is work related (which isn’t usually the case), it’s simply not conducive to a concentrated, focused work experience. Yes, some employees can choose to wear ear plugs or headphones. But to be fair and practical, organizations should have designated “heads-down” times — such as between 1-3pm each day — where open dialogue should be the exception rather than the norm. Colleagues that want to chat and can’t wait can do so in meeting rooms or the lunch room, etc.
The Bottom Line
An open office design isn’t just an alternative or progressive type of space configuration. In some ways, it’s a fundamentally different way of working — which means that HR policies that worked in the past don’t necessarily translate into the new environment. Updating or introducing policies to support the “new normal” is vital to ensure that the open office is an asset, instead of a liability.
At PIVOTAL, our team of human resource experts will work closely with your leadership team to develop policies that support your people, and keep your organization stable and on the right track — not just in terms of productivity and performance, but also in terms of meeting all regulatory and compliance obligations. To learn more, contact us today.