Monitoring HR Practices

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Organizational strategic planning has three distinct components. The first component is the establishment of the plan, which includes the high-level setting of vision, mission, and organizational objectives. The second is making the plan operational, and includes the implementation of the plan throughout all levels of the company, so that departments and business plans align in support of the planned strategy. The final element is that of monitoring all of the organizational activities, which is critical for ensuring the workforce is moving in the direction set by the plan, in order to meet the strategic objectives.

While HR plays an integral role throughout the strategic planning process, workforce monitoring (the third step) is the purview of the HR function. It is the role of HR to track and measure what the workforce is doing. HR provides the monitoring framework to ensure that not only is everyone headed in the same direction, but that the workforce activities are meeting timelines and required projections.

The concept of monitoring the workforce is not new. The means in which workforce monitoring takes place, however, has adjusted significantly with the evolution of HR technology. For example, the use of artificial intelligence platforms allows for computer keystroke monitoring. This is used as a measurement tool to track and report on employee performance levels. While the impetus for this type of monitoring stems from the need to track, measure, and report on productivity as a performance metric, it does come with a negative perspective. As noted in this article, keystroke monitoring has a distasteful aspect of spying or snooping on employees. The use of this intrusive software is made worse in these days of remote workforce management, due to the impact of the COVID-19 crisis. Is the continued practice of workforce monitoring with spyware necessary?

A recent post in the Canadian HR Reporter provides us with a refreshing approach to meeting the current challenges that face the remote work environment. The article highlights the real opportunities that HR can put into place by eliminating unnecessary practices in order to sustain business continuity for the organization. Rather than obsessing about employee productivity levels, through the elimination of unnecessary and intrusive practices, a simplified HR approach can lead to a new way while still maintaining support for the organizational strategic plan.

Discussion Questions:

  1. To what degree do you think the employer should be able to monitor the remote workforce?
  2. Instead of keystroke monitoring software, what other mechanisms can be put into place to track and report on employee performance?
  3. How would you react if you found out your employer was using spyware to monitor your work patterns? Explain your rationale.

The Changing Times for Sick Time

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In the multitude of challenges facing employers in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic comes the recognition that there is no ‘normal’ anymore. Existing business practices, such as the demand for a medical note from a doctor to justify an employee’s illness, are just not sustainable. When the public health authorities require that citizens stay at home and self-isolate if they have any symptoms of illness, the formality of requesting a doctor’s note seems ridiculous. As Human Resources professionals, we need to support and implement the changes for improved compensation practices.

Letting go of the old ways does not come quickly enough for some employers. The Tim Hortons fast-food chain made the news again for their unfortunate choices in compensation practices related to sick leave. As noted in this article, employees of the franchise continued to be required to provide a medical note to justify taking an unpaid sick leave day. After taking five days of unpaid sick leave, the employee would be fired. Needless to say, there was significant negative backlash when this practice hit the news and social media outlets.

It seems that the negative reaction pushed this particular employer into changing their sick leave and compensation practices. Five days after the first news article, the Tim Hortons franchise also announced a commitment of $40 million “to support employees” who are affected by COVID-19. As noted in this article, the company will pay employees who have the virus or are quarantined “up to 14 days.” The clear message from this updated policy was one of public safety, support, and recognition of the need for change in these unprecedented times.

Unfortunately, the journey on this new road did not last very long until once again, one of the franchise stores in Alberta hit the negative news cycle with this post. Fortunately, the note from the franchise owner was removed. The commitment to Tim Hortons’s new policy, including the removal of the requirement for sick notes, was re-posted in the public domain.

Change is hard. Forced change is even harder. These examples show how important it is to leave the old road behind us. Once this crisis is over, we must make the choice to stay on the new road as it leads to a safer, more sustainable future for us all.

Discussion Questions:

  1. In your opinion, how can a fast-food franchise implement improved compensation practices related to attendance management?
  2. Do you think the practice of termination after five unpaid sick days is fair? Explain your rationale.
  3. What types of HR-related supports should be in place for any fast-food franchise owner?

Heightened Risk. Heightened Refusal?

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Canadian workplaces have to confront the reality of increased safety risks to workers if they are required to attend to work in essential services, such as healthcare or social services, during the current pandemic crisis. While they may face the increased pressures that come with potential increased risks, workers in Canada continue to have the protection of provincial health and safety legislation that includes the right to refuse work when they believe their own safety is in peril.

In healthcare, for example, nurses at the London Health Sciences Centre exercised this right as noted in this news article. The union representing the nurses alleged that the employer did not provide facemasks as part of a personal protective equipment (PPE) requirement for nurses working in a cancer clinic. In correctional services, prison guards in an Ottawa jail refused to work due to the lack of COVID-19 screening for people entering the jail, as noted in this news article.

Both situations provide us with textbook examples of the rationale for work refusal. It begins with the reasonable belief on the part of the worker that the working conditions are unsafe. The worker must alert the employer to the potential danger and indicate their intent to refuse to do the work. The employer must investigate and take corrective action(s) if there is an existing danger to the workers.

The challenge facing the employer in both situations is the increasing scarcity of masks for PPE and the lack of availability of COVID-19 screening and testing tools. How can the employer provide corrective measures if the equipment is just not available?

As a result, the increased vigilance and reactions in both examples are understandable. Additionally, any current situation where service workers feel that they are at risk is heightened by their growing sense of fear. Fear that they will contract the virus. Fear that they will unknowingly infect someone else. Fear that the consequences of exposure may end with devastating results.

While it seems almost impossible to separate the emotional reaction of fear from the recognition of a workplace hazard, the rules must prevail—as noted in this posting by the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), which gives clear directions to unionized workers that “fear alone of a potential exposure will not be an adequate reason to refuse work.”

When people start to emotionally escalate into fear, it can quickly turn into panic and result in chaos. We need to help each other to de-escalate out of panic by providing rational and legitimate fact-based information. In a time of turbulence, it is important to go back to the basics and reinforce what the ground rules are for safety protection. The PSAC posting provides excellent and extensive information from a union perspective. From the employers’ side, the law firm of McCarthy Tetrault provides this posting that reiterates the ground rules and circumstances that must be followed in the case of work refusals in order to protect workers and workplaces.

Usually the union and the employer are on opposite sides of a work-related issue. In this current climate, it is heartening to know that the messages are unified in support of protecting each other with logic and reason, through the crisis of this COVID-19 pandemic.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are the conditions in your current place of work that could prompt a work refusal by employees?
  2. What measures can an employer put into place to provide additional protection for employees in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis?
  3. How can employees who work in service environments ensure that they are self-protecting and meeting their essential job requirements?

Silver Linings Learning

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When we look back at this time of pandemic crisis, it will, no doubt, be framed in the lens of ‘before’ and ‘after.’ ‘Before’ will be the time when we learned together in physical spaces, such as classrooms and lecture halls. ‘After’ will be the time when we adapted to learn in isolation through remote access and online technology.

If history has taught us anything, it is that crisis forces ingenuity and seismic shifts to get from ‘before’ to ‘after.’ This article from the Harvard Business Review provides us with a brief exploration of the future for post-secondary education. It also highlights the significant changes that are required to make technology-based learning sustainable in a post-pandemic world.

As noted in the article, faculty all over the country are scrambling to make their existing and future courses accessible through remote or online learning platforms. There is a collective push for academic learning in place. Faculty want to provide students with the means to achieve the credentials that they set out to earn. At the same time, faculty are trying to figure out how to provide effective learning to others in the midst of learning how to do so for themselves. To say that it is challenging is an understatement—made worse in this time of fear and uncertainty about health concerns for those whom we love.

The article also addresses the traditional notion of post-secondary education as a commodity. In order to receive accredited and institutional learning, one must “pay to play.” Now, we know that learning materials can be open and accessible to anyone with internet access. This means that the commodity of education is shifting in its value. Learning can be affordable—it may even be free!

In the ‘before,’ access to education was unattainable for some because the metaphorical door, representing the commodification of education, was closed. Through this crisis, that door has been forced open. It will be difficult to close in the future. Once we move into the ‘after,’ in the post-pandemic world, we may see that learning and education will become an egalitarian opportunity, accessible by and for, everyone.

Discussion Questions:

  1. If you had to choose between in-class or online learning, which one would you prefer?
  2. Are there specific online courses that you think achieve the same learning results as those provided through an in-class environment?
  3. What type of classes or courses do you think still need to be offered through a physical (in-class) learning environment?

What Happens Next?

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In September 2018, an arbitration decision determined that National Grocers Co. Ltd. (owned by Loblaws Inc.) had to pay overtime to its truck drivers who worked in excess of 44 hours per week, in accordance with Ontario’s Employment Standards Act (ESA). This decision came as the resolution of a grievance that was filed in 2014 by one of the drivers, Trevor Enos, who was represented by and a member of the union UFCW 1006A.

At the end of a four-year hearing, the union was able to make the winning argument that its membership was not excluded from the legislative requirements of the ESA. The employer (National Grocers Co. Ltd/Loblaws Inc.) argued, unsuccessfully, that the truck drivers were not bound by the overtime provisions of the ESA. They took the stance that the work done by the workers would fall under a different category and should be compensated under the jurisdiction of highway transport drivers. The arbitrator, Gordon F. Luborsky, sided with the union, and this meant that the employer would have to pay the overtime as ordered.

By September 2019, however, as identified in this CBC report, the overtime had not been paid out. Instead of settling the outstanding compensatory debt, Loblaws Inc. filed for a judicial review of the decision with the Ontario Divisional Court. While the report does not provide an explanation for the employer’s actions, the overtime payments owed to the employees, if dated back to 2014, would be significant. Loblaws Inc. has claimed to have set aside the funds it may need to pay the employees out.

It’s possible this case may not be about the money though.

While the monetary (overtime pay) issues seem to be the priority, this case provides us with some insights into both the legislative and procedural matters that come with administering a collective agreement.

As noted in the CBC article, employers cannot abdicate out of the law. If a collective agreement is ‘silent’ on a particular item, such as overtime, then the minimum standards of the ESA would, typically, apply. The question that appears to arise from this case is whether or not the ESA is the correct, applicable legislation. It makes sense that the employer would file for judicial review if the employer believes that the arbitrator erred in his decision about which piece of legislation does and should apply.

In the meantime, union representatives will continue to file grievances, as the Teamsters have done in Ottawa, based on similar circumstances, and the employers will continue to not pay. Until this matter is resolved by the penultimate, or even ultimate, third party, it seems that both sides to this dispute will continue as they have to date.

Discussion Questions:

  1. As the head of HR for Loblaws Inc., what steps will you put into place to prevent this from happening in the future?
  2. As the chief negotiator for UFCW, what language will you want to use to negotiate into the collective agreement at the next round of collective bargaining?
  3. As a member of the bargaining unit in this case, what do you think would be a ‘fair’ result for you?