Fines and Reprisals in Occupational Health and Safety

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Although there are slight differences, all jurisdictions, whether provincial or federal, have Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) laws; all jurisdictions will have a prohibition against reprisal or retaliation toward any employee who enacts their rights under OHS legislations. Here is a brief refresher of the three main rights of workers under OHS regulations in Canada, which all HR practitioners should know:

  • The right to refuse unsafe work.
  • The right to participate in the safety program.
  • The right to know about the actual and potential hazards.

In Canada, not ensuring an employee has these three legal rights may not only lead to regulatory fines, but to backpay as well as punitive damages.

There was a recent case where an employee raised concerns about various health and safety violations in his workplace, and was fired because of his H&S complaints. After an investigation and a hearing, the Ontario Ministry of Labour agreed with the terminated employee and the tribunal awarded him backpay of $25,000, $4,500 in other awards, and $2500 in punitive damages. Click here to read in greater detail about the case.

There are several very interesting possible legal precedents about this case. Normally the penalty for terminating an employee, when there is a violation of a reprisal clause, is reinstatement. In this case, however, they awarded the former employee backpay. Additionally, the board believed the employer’s actions were not appropriate and they awarded punitive damages on top of the award.

These two awards may end up setting the bar for future cases, when the employer who violates a worker’s OHS rights may have to correct or redress the harm that was caused, in addition to having to pay additional damages depending on how they treated their employee. It will be interesting to see if this is a one-off case or ends up setting a new trend.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Identify the reprisal section of the OHS Act in your jurisdiction. Summarize the fines and/or penalties that are outlined in the section if an individual violates the laws. Create a 5-minute presentation to educate supervisors on the details of that reprisal section.
  2. Review the fines and penalty section of the OHS Act in your jurisdiction and compare it to the one in the next closest jurisdiction. Identify the similarities and differences.

Time Management is Illogical

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Busy! Busy! Busy! We hear it out of the mouths of every worker, every boss, and every member of our modern-day society. “Busy” is for bees—we need to start talking about being productive and effective, not just busy.

Our workplaces have been battling this syndrome of busy-ness for a long time now. Here is a Time article from 2016 addressing the issue of workplace busy-ness. As we enter this new decade, busy-ness seems to be taking an even more dominant role in workplace culture. Here is a great piece analyzing why we have been taken over with this culture of busy-ness.

My own personal opinions on this topic are as follows (hopefully some HR professionals may find these opinions valuable and interesting):

  1. Busy-ness culture ramped up with the use of the fax machine in the business world.
  2. The concept of time management is illogical.

Before the fax machine in the workplace, you had time to process before you responded. With the invention of the fax machine, however, there was a new expectation that because the work request came to you fast, it had to be addressed fast.

It got worse with the invention of email, texting, and social media. Everything became instantaneous, and individuals started reacting to everything, and not responding in a strategic manner. Instead of strategic work outcomes or goals, transactional activities became the driving force behind work behaviour.

All of us need to look at Stephen Covey’s time management grid in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey stated that you should always be in control of your own productivity and be aware of where you are working at any moment in time. Click here to review Stephen Covey’s time management grid.

The time management grid has four quadrants of varying levels of productivity. According to the grid, most of your time should be in Quadrant II (QII), which is work that is non-urgent but important.

Most of us, in our working and personal life, spend most of our time in Quadrant I (QI) or Quadrant IV (QIV). To sum up these two quadrants, QI is where we respond to other’s crisis demands immediately, and QIV is where we waste our time with excessive emails and time on our smartphones. If you can move your activities to QII, you will automatically become more productive.

Additionally, the concept of time management is illogical. If you look at any HR textbook definition of “management,” you will always read these four themes of what “management” is about:

  1. Planning
  2. Organizing
  3. Leading
  4. Control

We have been conditioned for decades with the idea that we can manage time with time management skills. This is not true. We cannot manage time. Try to answer these following questions:

  • Can I plan time?
  • Can I organize time?
  • Can I lead time?
  • Can I control time?

The logical answer to all of the above questions is an emphatic no. One can‘t plan, organize, lead, or control time. All one can do is plan, organize, lead, and control their activities.

Everyone has the same 168 hours in a week. Most people work, commute, and have some type of family responsibility. What makes one person productive, and the other person just “busy”?

Discussion Question:

Read the following article to help you identify ways an HR department can assist its organization to avoid and overcome a culture of busy-ness? Create a summary of your key ideas that you could present to your VP of workplace wellness.

The General Labour Strike Lives On

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During a recent lecture, a student asked, “Come on, why do we have to learn about the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike? That was over 100 years ago. There was no income tax and only a few people even had indoor plumbing.”

Society, politics, and the economy have changed drastically in 100 years, but the tools for managing the relationship between capital and labour have not.

The withdrawal of labour, more commonly known as the “strike,” is still the only tool workers have to assert collective power to counterbalance the power of the employer. It may not be as accepted today as it once was, but it is still as effective. Let’s review some of the recent world news headlines:

The strike is becoming the most utilized tool in the union movement arsenal globally as well, which is demonstrated by what is happening in France. The largest general labour strike in decades for France is currently taking place, and have spurred on the following events:

  • Over 800,000 workers followed their union leaders and went out on strike.
  • Schools were shut down.
  • France’s main energy utility had to cut their power generation by 10%.
  • Transit systems had to be severely restricted.

The general labour strike is the largest tool unions have to demonstrate their collective voice. It was used 100 years ago, it is being used now, and it will probably continue to be used in another 100 years if history repeats itself, as it usually does.

This is why knowing about the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike is still relevant, and important to understand labour relations in today’s context.

Discussion Question:

Research the reasons behind the Ontario teachers’ job actions, and France’s general labour strike. Create an executive summary of the causes of the job actions, outlining the similarities and differences between the two labour disputes.

Faster, Flexible, and Well-being

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It is always a good time in January to look forward into the new year and see what the trends in HR will be. It seems as we head into 2020, we can consider these three words to sum up the upcoming trends in the HR world:1

  • Faster
  • Flexible
  • Well-being

These words sound more in line with what you’d expect from an ad for a yoga class, rather than what you’d use to describe new organizational trends for HR, so let’s expand on these.

In 2020, the new 5G networks will start to take hold and have an impact in the workplace. Greater and faster communication will lead to the increased use of Artificial Intelligence to speed up all processes in the workplace. Workers will have to be ready to respond to change unlike ever before.

Companies in 2020 may also be forced into embracing the 4-day work week. A financial services company in New Zealand, called Perpetual Guardian, moved to a 4-day work week and saw a 20% increase in productivity.2 According to Human Resources Director article, “Workplace 2020: Key trends for the future of Work”, flexible working “has emerged as a super trend, with 62% of businesses worldwide now offering a flexible working policy.”1 Incorporating flexible schedules into their workplace will be challenging for some organizations, but with the tight labour market in North America, many will have no choice but to offer creative and flexible working schedules for their employees.

Employee burnout is real as well, and “research shows that 95% of HR leaders think that stress is ‘sabotaging workforce retention’.”1 If there can only be one change organizations make in 2020, it should be dealing with workplace stress and employee burnout. As the speed of workplace processes increase, so will workplace stress levels. As things get faster, there is a greater need in our workplaces to counterbalance the speed of change with greater organizational flexibility and well-being to support our employees.

Discussion Question:

Pick one of the three HR trends for 2020 to research. Create a 5-minute presentation to convince your VP of HR that a new program should be implemented so the organization can be more successful in 2020.

Sources:

1 https://www.hcamag.com/ca/specialization/hr-technology/workplace-2020-key-trends-for-the-future-of-work/195995

2 https://www.theguardian.com/money/2019/feb/19/four-day-week-trial-study-finds-lower-stress-but-no-cut-in-output

Stretching the Truth like Silly Putty

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During recruitment interviews, HR professionals would love to give potential future employees a 100% rating, but not for the reasons one would think of.

A research study from the University of Guelph has identified that 100% of employment candidates lie, stretch the truth, or exaggerate during the employment interview process. These results should have all HR professionals asking questions like:

  • What conclusions can be drawn from this?
  • Does this mean all potential employees are liars?
  • Is a certain amount of lying acceptable?
  • Is this a systemic issue with HR’s recruitment methods?

What should be done to address this pervasive lying from potential employees? The research does not provide many answers. The study, however, does suggest that the level of competition may play a factor in the tendency for the candidate to lie, but not in the way one would think.

The research shows that if there is a fewer number of candidates competing for a job position, the tendency to lie during an interview will increase. For more details, click here to read the CBC article.

Perhaps the only way to overcome this is with direct confrontation, where recruiters can leave a copy of this research for the candidates to read at the start of an interview, and at the end of the interview, ask the candidate, “Was there at any time during this interview that you lied, stretched the truth, or exaggerated?” If the candidate answers “no,” since 100% of employment candidates lie, now you will know the “truth”!

Discussion Questions:

  1. Research how to make employment interviews more reliable and valid. Make a list of potential ideas for improvement that you find the most beneficial.
  2. Imagine you are a recruitment consultant who is making a pitch to a potential client about why your recruitment methods are better than your competitors’. Complete a 5-minute presentation to outline your methods.