As an employer, it’s necessary to expect the unexpected. Whether it’s an employee’s sudden health issue or a global pandemic, you need to know how to handle it—and fast.
Having the right policies in place can help. So can a labour and employment lawyer.
It all starts with a policy (or several). These policies are your beacon in tough times, guiding you through the dark and unknown.
That’s not to say that many employers had a pandemic policy before COVID-19 hit. Employers had to adapt as public restrictions rolled out, and they have to adapt again as workplaces begin to reopen.
“My general approach is always, do what makes business sense,” says Devin.
Focusing on what will further your business will benefit you and your employees, he explains. At the same time, if you can accommodate your employees’ requests within your policies—like allowing for some remote work hours—you’re more likely to gain their support.
“You can’t have a successful arrangement without that buy-in,” Devin adds.
You also can’t pressure employees to disclose whether they’ve been vaccinated, even if it affects your return-to-work plans. Doing so would trigger privacy and human rights obligations, Devin explains, not to mention employee dissatisfaction.
“So much of employment law is, what is the law and what are your legal obligations,” says Dany, “and what’s going to affect employee morale, retention, your workplace culture?”
Workplace culture is a big one, especially with the move to remote work and back again. Maintaining strong workplace culture is important, no matter the circumstances, and it comes down to management—and policies, says Devin.
“You need a great management team,” he explains. “If you don’t have managers who are respectful, effective, fair, consistent—it’s going to result in a bad workplace culture.”
You also need clear policies, which will help your management team keep things fair and consistent. It’s a good idea to check with your labour and employment lawyer that you’ve covered all your legal requirements, though reviewing, revising and communicating your policies should be an ongoing task.
We’ve seen changes happen with the pandemic, and the mental health repercussions from those changes need to be managed, too. That might mean directing employees to an employee assistance program for day-to-day struggles or accommodating time off for those experiencing more severe challenges.
Human rights legislation across Canada protects employees from being discriminated against by their employer based on disability, including an employee’s challenges with mental health or addiction. When you suspect someone is under the influence at work, it is important to gather information and determine whether any human rights obligations are triggered, rather than jumping to immediate termination of employment
The key is to be prepared. Work with your lawyer to develop policies that address the must-haves, but prepare for those unexpected moments. They happen in every workplace, in every industry, in every environment.
Tune in to this week’s episode of the Ask a Vexxpert podcast for more on how to cope when the unexpected arises. You can also reach out to our guests, Dany Théberge and Devin Wehrle, for guidance on structuring your policies and procedures in a way that works for employer and employee.