Employers will typically rely on their employment agreements as the mechanism to guide the employees’ rights, entitlements, and workplace experiences. While employment agreements are certainly one part of this, workplace policies implemented by the employer can be equally as important in achieving this goal and maintaining a healthy workplace.
This blog will discuss what employers should keep in mind when considering writing workplace policies and deciding how they will operate within their organization or company.
Workplace Policies in General
Policies are vital for employers in establishing expectations and appropriate conduct in the workplace. Policies are rules, guidelines and procedures that define the conduct and best practices for both employers and employees. Workplace policies can address topics such as hiring, customer interactions, or vacation. In practice, workplace policies are a tool to manage employees and their workplace performance and experiences. The benefits for employers in properly harnessing policies are endless.
It is important for employers to note that these workplace policies can take shape in many forms, including:
- Written policies
- Information sheets
Workplace policies are also in place to comply with provincial or federal legislation.
There are workplace policies that can be provided directly to the employer from the Ontario government, for example, whereas others that are required can demand some drafting from the employer. These are often known as company policies or codes of conduct and are specific to the employer and their workplace. Companies may also have their own self-directed policies.
Examples of Ontario Legislation Requiring Workplace Policies
Employers subject to provincial legislation who have employees in Ontario have legislative requirements under various employment statutes. These requirements can be found under the:
- Employment Standards Act, 2000
- Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997
- Occupational Health and Safety Act
- Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005
- Pay Equity Act
- Smoke-Free Ontario Act, 2017
- Working for Workers Act, 2021
- Working for Workers Act, 2022
When evaluating their workplace policy scheme, employers should be mindful that they are fulfilling all of the statutory obligations relating to their workplace and workforce, or else risk liability. This should be done on a regular basis, as many company policies are required to be updated periodically in order to remain valid.
Workplace Policy Requirements
Employers should be aware of the policies that are legislatively required in their workplace, along with any associated undertakings. Some workplace policies that are legislatively mandated are directly available to employers already prepared. As mentioned above, alternatively, some policies will require drafting by the employer.
Employers should be aware of those that are already prepared in order to both comply with the legislation and minimize unrequired policy writing.
Examples of potentially required and prepared policies include the following:
- A poster regarding the Employment Standards Act, 2022
- An “in case of injury” poster under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997
- A poster regarding the Occupational Health and Safety Act, 1990
- A copy of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, 1990
An example of a policy that requires drafting by the employer is a workplace violence and harassment policy. This is a policy that Ontario employers are legally obligated to have written and regularly updated. These policies must address:
- How employees can make complaints about workplace harassment and report incidents of such harassment; and
- How such complaints will be investigated, addressed, and resolved.
These policies must be present in the workplace containing the content listed above and must be accompanied with proper training for all relevant employees.
Value of Workplace Policies
Workplace policies, if done correctly, can be the guiding hand for the company and for the employees. Employers should not underestimate the tangible value that policies can hold for them. This value includes:
- Immediate expectation setting. This allows the employer to ensure that new hires are immediately in tune with the company culture, and with workplace performance expectations. This can directly contribute to revenue maintenance and employee retention.
- Compliance. Workplace policies allow employers to be confident knowing that they have complied with their applicable legislative requirements.
- Best practice. Workplace policies allow the employer to decisively determine how they would like their operations to look, and solidify the standards to be available transparently to employees.
- Risk management. Workplace policies can promote productivity in the workforce while controlling the risk for liability. Employers may rely on their employees should a conflict, or even litigation, arise.
Employee policies are an opportunity for employers to clearly establish critical expectations, rules and functions. This base allows for employers to manage risk in the workplace and workforce, minimize uncertainty for both the employer and employees and even help to avoid litigation.
Considerations When Drafting Workplace Policies
Policies are a significant indicator of a company’s organizational goals and workplace culture. They establish norms in the workplace, and effectively work to attract a certain kind of employee. Employers should harass policies as tools to establish a company that reflects their internal business goals and values.
Subject matters that employers may want to consider placing in a place could be:
- Social media policy
- Flexible work policies
- Remote work policies
- Pay period policy
- Bring your own device policy
- Acceptable use of company electronics policy
- Attendance policy
- Code(s) of Conduct
- Confidentiality agreements
- Menstruation policy
Policies, when written well, actively work to minimize risk. In order to most effectively do so, employers must understand how to best communicate their message while also engaging the reader – the employee.
When conceptualizing these policies employers should base the policy in the idea of mutual trust between the employee and the employer. This will help the employee feel more receptive to the employer’s standards. One way to do this is to make sure that the purpose of the policy is clearly defined at the beginning of the policy. This allows employees to trust the message, as it is being presented clearly to them.
Similar to the above, employers will benefit from clearly defining the scope of the policy near the beginning of the document. This scope section would let them know which employees are affected by this policy, and in which workplace settings.
To this end, employers should strive to avoid inaccessible language when writing workplace policies. Language that is technical or complex will ultimately disadvantage the employer, as their message may not be understood by the employee.
Employers should instead focus on making the policy accessible and should even consider communicating the policy from the employees point of view. One particularly compelling way of doing this is through the use of real-life examples. The most effective examples will be ones that reflect the workplace’s day to day operations and tasks.
Once an employer is sure that their policy is accessible (while keeping in mind further accommodations may be required depending on the employee), they can turn their mind to the consequences related to infringing on the policy, which may include termination of employment. Employers should tread with caution here, otherwise risk a wrongful dismissal or discrimination or harassment claim.
Sultan Lawyers provides comprehensive policy writing support to employers. This includes services such as policy development and implementation, including workplace violence policies and other common workplace polices in Ontario. For further information and assistance, please contact the Toronto employment lawyers, Sultan Lawyers at 416-214-5111 or via email to email@example.com.
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