The month of January generally brings with it a lot of good resolutions. But in addition to “personal” resolutions, have you thought of making “professional” ones as well? To help you start off the year on the right foot, here are ten resolutions for improved human resources management.

1. Review your company’s policies

Why not systematically review your company’s HR policies at the start of each year? This should not take a lot of time if done on a regular basis, and will ensure that your policies are up to date.

Updating your policies is necessary so that they reflect recent legislative and regulatory changes and court decisions, or simply the current reality of your company’s work environment.

You should also take this opportunity to ensure that your company has the following essential policies in place:

  • a policy on harassment, discrimination and violence in the workplace;
  • an information-technology policy;
  • a health and safety policy;
  • a code of ethics.

2. Update your performance management program

Essential but often overlooked by some employers, a performance management program allows you to take stock of employee performance on an annual basis, if not more frequently. Take the time to meet with your employees in order to point out their strengths (and possibly weaknesses) observed over the last year. And remember, this is an assessment of performance over the last 12 months, not just the last month! This is also a good time to ask employees what their goals are for the coming year, to explain your expectations of them, to determine whether additional training may be necessary or useful, and to inform them of any salary increases.

In the case of employees are underperforming, it may be necessary to implement a remedial action plan. Such a plan will essentially specify the failings noted by the employer, the latter’s expectations, and a reasonable period within which to achieve the set goals, together with the consequences of failing to meet them within the allotted time. It is essential however to ensure that the underperforming employee has all the necessary tools with which to improve his or her performance.

3. Review cases of chronic absenteeism

Out of sight, out of mind?

Don’t forget to follow up on employees on extended leave of absence. Unpaid leave, automobile accident insurance claimants, worker’s compensation recipients, disability insurance claimants: these are some of the categories of employees who may be absent for months, if not years. In some cases, even if the employer is no longer paying them a salary, they continue to receive income in the form of employee benefits (group insurance, pension plan, etc.). Neglecting these files may, with time, prove very costly.

It might therefore be appropriate to regularly review such files on a case by case basis in order to determine whether certain measures may be called for (such as a medical examination) or whether the employment relationship might need to be severed altogether.      

4. Impose disciplinary sanctions for health and safety violations

Employers don’t hesitate to impose disciplinary sanctions on employees for insubordination. However, they are not as prepared to do so for health and safety violations.

And yet the courts are very clear in health and safety matters: showing that the employer’s duty of authority was exercised is an essential component of a due diligence defence. The employer must be proactive and intervene where an employee does not follow health and safety rules. Oral and written warnings, suspension and even firing are appropriate, depending on the circumstances.  

5. Adopt good recruitment practices

By adopting good recruitment practices, you will improve your chances of hiring candidates that meet your expectations and reduce the risks – sometimes considerable – associated with dubious or illegal recruitment practices.

You should first of all ensure that your publicized job offers adequately describe the duties of the position involved, and the required qualifications.

Avoid asking for information (on a pre-hiring questionnaire or during a selection interview) that may be deemed discriminatory under the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms1. For example, the employer does not generally need to know the year of a candidate’s birth (age), his or her place of birth (ethnic or national origin) or whether the candidate is married or has children (civil status). The employer could, however, at an opportune time, legitimately ask the candidate to confirm that he or she is legally able to work in Canada, by providing an attestation to that effect.

The employer must also limit its requests for personal information to information that is necessary for the purpose of the exercise, i.e. the recruitment process, in accordance with the Act respecting the protection of personal information in the private sector2. For example, it will seldom if ever be necessary for the employer to know each address the candidate has resided at for the last ten years. Similarly, credit or background checks, or pre-hiring medical examinations, cannot be systematically required for each position. Employers should ideally consult a specialist to ensure the legality of such verifications before conducting them.

Finally, before contacting any references, be sure you have obtained the candidate’s written consent to do so. By the same token, if another employer calls you for a reference, ask to be provided with your former employee’s written consent before disclosing any information.   

6. Document problem cases

Unfortunately, despite all the due diligence with which certain files may be handled, litigation will sometimes inevitably ensue. To facilitate the management of problem cases, it is essential to document them adequately. Because memories can be unreliable, it is essential to keep a continuous and contemporaneous record of events. Keep notes of your meetings, summaries of whatever steps you take, and copies of your correspondence with difficult employees. Also keep all documents that might be useful in the event of litigation.  And ensure that all managers involved do the same.

Proceeding in this manner will facilitate preparation for a trial, allow a more accurate assessment of the risks, reduce costs and maximize the chances of a successful outcome.   

7. Provide training

In order for your employees to perform to their potential, don’t neglect training. Whether it be theoretical or practical, through mentoring or some other system, a training program is essential. Resources will be better utilized, employees will feel more valued, and the transfer of knowledge will be assured.

Moreover, under the Act to Promote Workforce Skills Development and Recognition3 (often referred to as the “One Percent Act”) every employer whose total payroll exceeds an amount determined from time to time by the government (currently $1,000,000) is required to participate in workforce skills development by devoting at least 1% of its total payroll to eligible training expenditures.  

8. Motivate your employees

The productivity and profitability of a business often depend to a large degree on the motivation of its employees. You should therefore take whatever steps are necessary to motivate your troops. Set goals that are clear and precise, ensure that the working environment is dynamic, that work conditions are adequate and that employees have the tools required to do their jobs well. Communicate with employees effectively so that they are aware of the fruits of their labour, and offer appropriate rewards for superior performance (promotions, salary increases, bonuses, etc.).

9. Ensure legislative compliance

Another exercise that should be performed regularly by all employers is verifying compliance with applicable employment legislation. The minimum labour standards under the Act respecting labour standards4 and, for federally regulated works, undertakings and businesses, Part III of the Canada Labour Code5 come immediately to mind, but there are other statutes that employers must also comply with.

Think for example of the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms6, which provides as follows:

  • a prohibition on discrimination in, inter alia, hiring, vocational training, dismissal and conditions of employment;
  • a prohibition on requiring, in an employment application form or interview, information regarding any ground specified in Section 10 of the Charter (race, sex, pregnancy, civil status, language, ethnic or national origin, religion, handicap, etc.);
  • a prohibition on dismissing  or refusing to hire someone on the sole ground that he or she has been convicted of a penal or criminal offence, if the offence was in no way connected with the employment involved;
  • the obligation to pay equal salary or wages to employees who perform equivalent work at the same place of employment, etc.

Every employer must also be mindful of the provisions of the Charter of the French Language7 that apply to employers. For example, that statute creates obligations for employers in connection with:

  • written communications with employees;
  • offers of employment or promotion;
  • collective agreements;
  • legal instruments (including employment contracts);
  • requirements regarding knowledge of a language other than French, etc.

There are several other laws that employers should be familiar with, such as the Civil Code of Québec8, the Act to Promote Workforce Skills Development and Recognition9, the Pay Equity Act10, as well as the National Holiday Act11.

The long and the short of it is that you should keep abreast of all laws and regulations that apply to your business … and all amendments to them!

10. Be prepared for pension plan changes

On July 1, 2014 the Voluntary Retirement Savings Plans Act came into effect. The implementation of Voluntary Retirement Savings Plans (VRSPs) will be gradual, depending on the number of employees in the business. Since last July 1, employers may offer VRSPs to their employees. That option will eventually become an obligation for employers with five or more employees.

For employers with 20 or more employees, that obligation will become effective on December 31, 2016, while those with 10 to 19 employees will have until December 31, 2017 to comply12. For employers with five to nine employees, the effective date remains to be determined, but it should be after January 1, 2018.

It is however important to note that the obligation to offer a VRSP is subject to some significant exceptions, including:

  • where the employees have the opportunity to contribute, through payroll deductions, to a designated registered retirement savings plan or tax-free savings account within the employer’s enterprise; or  
  • where the employees belong to a category of employees who benefit from a registered pension plan within the meaning of the Income Tax Act.13

On that note, we wish you a very successful 2015!