Universal Basic Income = Basic Rewards Strategy

Rob Wilson/Shutterstock

A fundamental premise of any compensation strategy is that the system of rewards has (as noted in our text) “a powerful effect on behaviour.” This effect can be positive if the rewards system is built within the framework of organizational justice. If individuals perceive that rewards provide for fair outcomes resulting from fair processes, they will believe and behave in a way that supports the rewards strategy. This forms part of the psychological contract with the organization.

On the other hand, if individuals do not believe that the rewards system is equitable or fair, their behaviour follows a negative path of dissatisfaction, disengagement, and, ultimately, total disconnection from the organization. This disconnection is either voluntary, in the form of a quit, or involuntary, as the organization has to make the ‘quit’ decision for the individual. The result is that both the physical employment contract, as well as the psychological contract, with the organization are severed completely.

When we expand the concept of the organization to the broader social community, we can see the direct and powerful impact of rewards system(s) provided by government relief programs through the continuing pandemic crisis. Millions of Canadians are out of work, and they face devastating consequences if they cannot afford to pay for basic provisions, such as food and shelter. Financial income programs, such as the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), are able to provide some relief to many unemployed Canadians, which allows them to meet, to some degree, their basic needs. This emergency rewards system is not perfect, but it does alleviate some financial pressures. Furthermore, the distribution of the CERB funds appears to be based on a perceived system of organizational justice where the process and the rewards are equitable, meaning that the same rules apply to everyone and the distributed funds are the same.

Does the CERB funding provide for an increase in the psychological contract within our social communities? According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, when survival and basic needs are met, individuals are able to move toward social needs. This need is one of social belonging, which, from a compensation strategy application, speaks to membership behaviour and commitment. Once individuals have a sense of belonging, they can progress along Maslow’s theoretical hierarchy to meet esteem and self-actualization needs. When people are able to function beyond meeting their basic needs, they are able to be engaged and committed to the larger community.

With this in mind, the question of continuing funding, such as that provided by the CERB, as a universal basic income strategy for all Canadians, comes into play. It may be time to continue the path to a universal basic income strategy, as companies and economies start the very slow path to recovery from the pandemic. The positive aspects on a global perspective of a basic income strategy are explored in this article posted by the CBC. The article presents an interesting perspective that a basic income strategy provides for more motivation for individuals to work, which seems to link directly to the positive aspects of a psychological social contract. John Michael McGrath provides us with this opinion piece, in which he explores the impact of ongoing economic change, including the need for a basic income strategy, as we move into a post-pandemic world of work.

As noted in both articles, and based on our own pandemic experiences, we know there is no going backward once this crisis is over. The movement forward, however, provides such great opportunities for social change and economic justice. Let’s make it work for everyone.

Discussion Questions:

  1. In your opinion, how does the concept of a universal basic income align with the principles of procedural and distributive justice?
  2. How would a universal basic income provide a remedy for the four causes of reward dissatisfaction?
  3. In your opinion, would a universal basic income increase or decrease the personal motivation of individuals to find paid employment?

The Reality of Workplace Violence

271 EAK MOTO/Shutterstock

Imagine yourself at work and a co-worker intentionally hits you. For most people, such situations are unthinkable. Hitting, slapping, grabbing, or unwanted touching of any part of a person’s body is completely unacceptable in today’s workplace, and yet, it continues to happen.

This type of conduct can be categorized as both harassment and workplace violence. Harassment is illegal under both the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) in Ontario. Workplace violence is prohibited by the OHSA. Bill 132 amended this act to include the requirement for employers to investigate complaints of both workplace harassment and violence.

A year after the implementation of Bill 132, Workplace Safety North posted this article, which states that there was a 100% increase in reports of workplace harassment complaints. This does not mean that there was suddenly an increase in actual cases. Instead, the legislation provided a previously unavailable mechanism for reporting incidents and complaints in accordance with the Ministry of Labour.

As uncomfortable as it may be, we do need to understand what a reported case of workplace harassment and violence looks like in order to prevent it from happening again.

The case of Bassanese v. German Canadian News Company Limited et al., 2019 ONSC 1343 (CanLII) is particularly problematic. Ms. Bassanese was subjected to an ongoing litany of workplace harassment, which included the allegations of being slapped in the face three times by her co-worker. On the day she filed both an internal complaint and a police report about these abuses, Ms. Bassanese was terminated for employment without notice. A summary of this case is provided here.

As part of the decision to award punitive damages to the former employee, the courts included the fact that the employer’s actions were considered a reprisal as defined by the OHSA. Furthermore, the failure on the part of the employer to comply with the legal requirements, as prescribed by the OHSA, to investigate workplace harassment and violence complaints, resulted in the costly damages to be paid by the employer to the employee.

No amount of compensation, however, can pay for someone’s pain, humiliation, and suffering at the hands of their employer. It also, unfortunately, does not seem to be enough of a deterrence to make some employers stop.

Discussion Questions:

  1. As an HR practitioner, what steps would you take if an employee came to you with a complaint that they were slapped by a co-worker? If an investigation provided evidence that an employee did slap a co-worker, what actions would you take?
  2. In the case of Bassanese v. German Canadian News Company Limited et al., 2019 ONSC 1343 (CanLII), what other cases did the courts consider as part of the final decision and award?

The Need for Empathy Training

Honza Hruby/Shutterstock

A common understanding of the term “empathy” is that it describes the ability of a person to share and understand the feelings of another.

What is not a common understanding is whether this ability for empathy is a skill or a trait. If it is the latter, empathy as a trait implies that it is part of one’s personal character. Either you have it or you don’t. If it is the former, empathy as a skill moves into the realm of something that can be learned, nurtured, and developed.

An exploration of skill-based empathy is provided in this TedxTalk by Jamil Zaki.

Jamil Zaki identifies this new view of empathy as a trainable skill. His examples show that empathy develops and adapts at an emotional level to a specific environment. Empathy, according to Zaki, is not a natural state, and it is one that may need to be enforced in order to grow. It is hard to do and may require incentives—as he notes in the female-male approaches—for continued development. As we learn with any other skill, the more reasons we have to practice it, the more motivation we’ll have, and the better we’ll become at the process of becoming and being empathetic.

How does this type of skill development translate into our current workplaces? In the video, Zaki provides an example of empathy training for police services in the state of Washington. This type of training resulted in a proven decline in the use of force by police officers, especially in situations where they had to interact with people who experienced mental illness.

This type of empathy-based training program has been adapted within a Canadian context as well. By using virtual reality technology, Halton police services implemented an empathy training program for its officers as noted in this article.

Through situational simulations, police officers learn what it feels like to be a person in crisis who has autism, schizophrenia, or is experiencing suicidal thoughts. As the virtual experience provides the feeling of a person in crisis, police officers can better understand how to adapt their own approach to a real-life situation. With a different mindset, police officers can focus on de-escalation and the need to “minimize the stress of the person in crisis in real-life scenarios.”

It is not just the use of technology-based training that makes this approach a “game changer.” It is the repeated practice of empathy-based skills development that can truly change the world.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you think empathy is a trait or a skill? Explain your rationale.
  2. Besides police services, what other types of industries or workplaces would benefit from empathy-based training?
  3. What can you do to develop your own empathy-related skills? How can you apply these skills in your current or future work environment?

Let’s Make a Deal

Bert Flint/Shutterstock

In the midst of all of the reporting on the pandemic crisis, there was some good news from the labour relations front. In Ontario, three of the four unions representing teachers announced that they had reached tentative collective bargaining agreements with the province.

As reported by Global News, both the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) and the Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO) were able to negotiate revised working conditions. The Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA), representing its elementary and secondary school teachers, was able to reach a tentative agreement as noted in this news posting.

From a process perspective, once a tentative agreement is reached between the representatives of all parties, the details of the agreement must be voted on by their respective memberships in order for it to be ratified. Ratification means that the agreement is final, and the terms of the new collective agreement are in place for each of the unions and their employer. The OECTA membership announced the successful ratification of the revised terms as noted in this article. The ETFO and AEFO agreements are still pending.

Does this mean that the collective bargaining process is over?

Not yet.

In Ontario, public education for elementary and secondary schools are governed by numerous pieces of legislation. These include the Labour Relations Act, the Education Act, and the School Boards Collective Bargaining Act, 2014. Needless to say, teaching is a highly prescriptive and heavily regulated profession resulting in an occasionally complicated approach to labour relations.

Prior to the implementation of the School Boards Collective Bargaining Act, 2014, individual school boards would negotiate collective agreements with their local bargaining units, representing the teachers within their jurisdiction. As each agreement was reached, there was a tweak, or a better term negotiated, that caused a laddering effect from board to board. This resulted in inconsistent terms within agreements based on local or regional resources.

With the implementation of the School Boards Collective Bargaining Act, 2014, common items for all school boards pertaining to wages and working conditions are negotiated at the provincial level and implemented locally once ratified. As noted in the news articles, each school board will continue to negotiate with its local bargaining unit to address any outstanding issues that pertain to the local community.

At the beginning of April 2020, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) and the province renewed their talks at the bargaining table with a changed approach. The bargaining process between these two parties was particularly hostile and aggressive, resulting in limited progress towards any agreement. As noted in this news article, what forced a change between the two parties was the impact of the pandemic crisis.

With the province abandoning its use of flaming rhetoric, the hostile environment on both sides appears to be diminished. Presently, there appears to be a more open space that will allow the parties to focus on the issues that are important, using a calm and reasonable approach, in order to achieve a mutually satisfactory settlement.

No matter if it is local or provincial, the continued need to listen in any bargaining process is critical as a means to reach a peaceful settlement in these truly turbulent times.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Browse through different websites for teacher unions in Canada. What information is posted about the collective bargaining process and the union’s role? What information is available that identifies issues for local bargaining?
  2. If you were representing the province at the bargaining table with the teacher unions, which approach would work best for you? Aggressive or conciliatory? Explain your rationale.

Discrimination Matters

Sam72/Shutterstock

As HR professionals, there are two legal concepts that guide our actions when we work within the scope of human rights legislation. The first is the concept of intent. When we deal with actions that may be discriminatory in nature, the intent does not matter—the effect does. This means that while an individual may not have intended to make a racist slur or a sexist remark, when they do so or are perceived to have done so, another person is adversely affected by that remark. The second is the concept of reasonableness. In our civil society, a reasonable person would know that not only is a racial slur or sexist remark discriminatory, it is completely unacceptable.

While each province has its own Human Rights legislation, they all identify the prohibited grounds that form the basis for employment discrimination. One of the common grounds found in all provincial and federal human rights legislation is that of age. It is discriminatory to deny or exclude someone from employment-related matters based on their age. All good HR practitioners know that it is illegal to ask someone’s age during the screening and recruitment process. This does not mean that it does not happen.

Facebook was in the negative news cycle recently due to its targeted job advertisements, which excluded individuals based on characteristics linked to prohibited grounds, including age. As noted in this article, this practice by Facebook violated Canadian Human Rights legislation. The article goes on to explore two other examples of age-related discrimination, which occurred during each of their respective recruitment processes. These cases show us how age discrimination can occur through the unintended actions and words on the part of potential employers.

The case of Moore v. Ferro (Estate), is analyzed further in this article “Unintentional Discrimination is Still Discrimination.” This complaint was filed on the basis of two prohibited grounds, age and race. It is interesting to note that the human rights tribunal identified how the age factor had an adverse effect on the complainant, as there was “evidence of reliance on stereotypes about older people.”

There are interviewing tools provided by provincial bodies, such as the Human Rights Commission of Ontario. These tools provide guidance to ensure that the recruitment process is fair, and aligns with human rights legislation for everyone. It seems a reasonable and prudent thing to review before setting up any recruitment process in the future.

The fact that the case Moore v. Ferro (Estate) happened within the setting of a law firm should remind us that due diligence and legislative compliance can happen anywhere, but must prevail, no matter what.

Discussion Questions:

  1. You are guiding a recruitment process as the HR advisor. Two candidates are equally qualified for selection. One candidate appears to be much older than the other. What advice will you give to the hiring manager for when they decide on a candidate?
  2. What measures can you put into place to avoid a situation that causes an “adverse effect” in the recruitment process?
  3. Have you experienced unintended discrimination in a workplace? How did it impact or affect you?