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  • Writer's pictureLisa Dawson

Law Firm Policies Checklist

HR Policies. Which ones are a MUST?
HR Policy Checklist

Policy checklist summary BC, private sector With enforcement activity on the rise and employers continuing to make the same compliance mistakes over and over, now is a good time to think about getting your policies in order.

In other words, you can’t ignore HR policies

Some workplace policies in BC are required by law.

Courts have told employers that a lack of policy harmed their case (even when the policy wasn’t required by law). Some tribunals have required employers who are found non-compliant to implement certain workplace policies and procedures (e.g., accommodation policy, anti-harassment/discrimination policy, progressive discipline policy among others).

Does your law firm have these policies in place? If it doesn’t, your firm is at risk.

HR policies that are required by Canadian laws and recommended by courts can be found on several sites, most notably:

Informal practices ARE policies – and must meet employment law requirements

Law firms sometimes have written workplace protocols, like a code of conduct, a standard employment contract, pay practices, some things like that. But if be sure that your firm’s practices—formal or informal—meet the requirements of the various employment-related laws.

Two crucial aspects of policies

1. It’s essential to have the policies that are required by law so your firm can demonstrate to inspectors or courts that you’ve have complied and done your due diligence.

2. Policies help your firm’s lawyers and employees understand what to do in the event of a workplace injury, a claim of harassment, a request for accommodation of disability, when an employee says you owe overtime, how much to pay when an employee takes a vacation, when you want to terminate a problem employee—or want to let go of someone for no particular reason. Policies also communicate to employees what you expect from them, their entitlements and rights.

Informal and unwritten practices can’t help law firms in day-to-day operations. They also will not offer much protection when faced with a legal challenge from an employee or a government inspector—or an audit—in terms of proving compliance.

Legally compliant policies that are written down in a formal policy manual will provide the strong due diligence defence required to meet legal challenges to your HR practices and management. Ensure your applies those policies consistently so you can build a strong workplace culture of confidence and productivity without worrying that simple management actions will damage your law firm or land your firm in court.

Ignorance of the law is no excuse

Whether your law firm’s practices are formal and written down or informal and verbal—those are your workplace policies and those are what will be the basis of your legal defence.

Here are the 11 HR Policies Required By-Law for British Columbia:

1. General health and safety policy: The policy states the employer’s commitment to protect employees’ health and safety, and to cooperate with workplace parties such as employees, the joint health and safety committee or health and safety representative to ensure a safe work environment. The policy also lists the general responsibilities of employers and the other workplace parties, among other obligations. The policy must be signed by upper management. In addition to preparing a general health and safety policy, an employer that regularly employs more than five employees (threshold varies depending on jurisdiction) must also have a program in place to implement the policy.

2. Violence policy: A workplace violence policy will usually include a statement of the employer’s commitment to prevent or minimize violence; a definition of workplace violence; a risk assessment plan; security and prevention measures; training requirements; and procedures for filing, responding to and investigating a complaint or violent incident.

3. Harassment policy: The workplace harassment policy should provide a definition of workplace harassment as found in human rights legislation; outline how your law firm will respond to complaints and incidents of harassment, who will be designated to accept complaints, what training they will receive, how investigations will take place; and more.

4. Domestic violence policy (Ontario, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Alberta only)

5. WHMIS policy: The main purpose of the provincial WHMIS legislation is to require employers to obtain health and safety information about hazardous materials in the workplace and to pass this information on to workers through a policy and training. A WHMIS policy discloses to workers hazard information on controlled products. It also ensures that employees who handle, are exposed to, or are likely to handle or be exposed to hazardous materials are instructed on their use. The WHMIS policy and program will be specific to the workplace.

6. Hazard-specific policies and procedures: These policies can include personal protective equipment (PPE), working alone, confined space, noise, heat stress, cold stress, etc. The requirement to have one or more of these types of policies depends on the nature of the workplace or the work performed. OHS Regulations indicate that when an employer identifies a hazard or a risk of a hazard in the workplace (after a risk assessment has been done), the employer must prepare written policies and procedures and affected employees must be instructed and trained on these procedures. If procedures can eliminate the hazard, then such procedures should be specified. Consider working alone, poor or inadequate lighting, ergonomic hazards, extremes of temperature, manual handling hazards, slip, trip and fall hazards, electrical hazards (e.g. appliances, power sockets, etc.), contagious illnesses spread by sick workers, fire hazards etc.

7. Emergency preparedness and response policy: Emergency preparedness and response policy and plan, rescue and evacuation procedures are required in writing. Essential elements of an effective HR policy manual.

8. Psychological harassment Policy (Quebec only): Employers must control bullying, intimidation and other forms of psychological harassment in the workplace. A written policy is required.

9. Personal information privacy policy: A personal information protection policy is to protect the personal information of employees and to indicate why the employer needs the information and how he or she will use it. The policy will provide the mechanisms necessary to access and revise personal information. It will also explain the complaint-resolution process.

10. Pay equity policy and plan: (Ontario and Quebec only) Must establish and maintain compensation practices and plans that provide for pay equity in every establishment of the employer.

11. Accessibility: Obligated law firms must establish policies, practices and procedures with respect to persons with disabilities under the following accessibility standards:

1.Customer service

2. Information and communications

3. Employment

4. Transportation

5. Built environment and the design of public spaces and the Building Code

Although British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec do not have accessibility laws, they do have accessibility initiatives to make their province accessible by 2024. However, they are consulting to see if they need legislation to support these initiatives. Private and not-for-profit sector law firms with 49 or fewer employees are not required to put their policies in writing.

B. Policies strongly recommended by courts: common law

12. Anti-harassment/anti-discrimination/accommodation policy:

Employers must meet a high standard when it comes to accommodating employees with disabilities. Create, implement and communicate workplace policies and procedures that aim to prevent discrimination and harassment, and that make it clear your law firm will not tolerate discriminating and harassing behaviour or conduct based on any prohibited ground found under human rights legislation. Human rights legislation does not formally require policies for anti-harassment, antidiscrimination or accommodation of employees in protected groups. However, if a human rights commission or tribunal rules that the employer has violated human rights law, they can order the employer to develop policies in addition to awarding damages to employees.

13. Progressive discipline policy: Due to recent developments in Canadian courts, non-union employers are advised to have a progressive discipline policy that takes into account the context of employees’ wrongdoing and applies escalating measures of discipline before resorting to a dismissal. Employers should prepare their discipline policy in writing and ensure managers and supervisors understand how to use it when disciplining employees. A progressive discipline policy is used in conjunction with a set of work rules (other HR policies) that are clearly communicated to employees and applied consistently and fairly.

A progressive discipline policy outlines a clear course of disciplinary actions that will be taken when an employee violates work rules (e.g., verbal warning, written warning, suspension, demotion, termination). The policy must provide employees with a clear explanation of what is expected, what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour or performance, and the consequences/penalties for not following the employer’s rules or meeting standards.

14. Privacy policy: Not all jurisdictions have private sector privacy legislation. However, all workplaces should have a policy protecting employees’ personal information and describing the mechanisms for collecting, using, storing, accessing and revising personal information, and a complaint resolution process. At a minimum, law firms should inform their employees what personal information they will collect, use and disclose and why. This includes informing employees of any policies that might impede their right to privacy.

15. Internet, email and computer use policy: Computers, email and the Internet are integral to our working lives and there is a need for sound workplace policies regarding the use of these systems, including the protection of personal privacy

Employers should develop Internet/email/computer usage policies to ensure employees understand what is and is not acceptable behaviour when using the employer’s property. Employers generally want to allow employees to access the computer/Internet/email from work for limited personal reasons, but also to ensure that company property and time are not used to transmit pornography or hate mail, or for other inappropriate activities.

16. Social media policy: Nowhere is the conflict between the employer’s right to manage and the employee’s right to privacy more apparent than in social media. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and other social networks are everywhere. Social media has become a vital and easy method of communicating, networking and conducting business.

17. Hours of work and attendance policy: The attendance policy explains an employer’s expectations about attendance and tardiness and sets out the rules on absences, presenteeism and how excessive absenteeism will be handled. Supervisors and managers will inform employees of specific work schedules, including normal start times, break times, meal schedules and ending times. The hours of work and attendance policy will reiterate these things.

18. Overtime policy: An overtime policy is essential when an employer needs to limit overtime hours and control the circumstances under which an employee may work overtime. The policy also outlines the process for obtaining prior approval to work overtime. Even though employees can agree to work overtime, an employer cannot force an employee to work overtime. The overtime policy must be consistent with the employment standards requirements of your province or territory.

19. Employment Standards policies: Employment standards are the minimum rules of employment for workplaces that are required by law. Employment standards cover many aspects of employment including, but not limited to: Unauthorized overtime? The employer has to pay If an employee works the overtime hours, they are entitled to the appropriate pay or time off in lieu if the law allows it. An employer cannot claim that the overtime hours were not authorized and refuse to pay for it. That is why it is recommended to have a policy in place stating that all overtime must be authorized. While the employer cannot refuse to pay for unauthorized overtime, having the policy in place allows the employer to monitor the situation and discipline the employee for breaching that policy.

- Minimum wage

- Minimum daily pay

- Meal breaks

- Payment of earnings (paydays)

- Statutory (public) holidays

- Vacation time and pay

- Termination

- Deductions

- Keeping records

- Statutory leaves

It is important for your pay policy to state:

- The frequency employees will get paid—i.e., pay period (for example, bi-weekly or monthly)

- Information on authorized deductions (Employment Insurance, CPP, benefit premiums, etc.)

- The method of payment (for example, cheque or direct deposit) and information on pay statements

- Where employees can direct concerns about pay

- Details about pay advances, where applicable

20. Smoking (Cannabis specific or not) in the workplace policy: Employers have obligations under smoking legislation or OHS legislation or regulations to:

- Ensure that no person smokes or holds lighted tobacco in any enclosed public place or workplace (including visitors and contractors)

- Ensure that no person smokes an e-cigarette in the workplace (only certain provinces)

- Give notice to each employee in an enclosed workplace, vehicle or place that smoking is prohibited in a manner that complies with regulations

21. Conflict of interest policy: Employers should consider having a conflict-of-interest policy to warn employees of conduct or activities that create a conflict of interest. The policy should state that disciplinary measures will be taken for violations of the policy. These types of conduct must be defined broadly and include any means by which an employee might inappropriately gain a personal benefit because of advantages stemming from the employment relationship.

What is a conflict of interest? A conflict of interest includes any situation in which an employee’s loyalties or interests are, or may appear to be, divided between:

- The employee’s personal interests and the company’s interests; or

- The company’s interests and a third party’s interests

22. Flexible work arrangements/telecommuting policy: Flexible work arrangements are alternate arrangements or schedules from the traditional working day, week or location. This includes flex-time, telecommuting, reduced hours, compressed workweeks, job sharing, banking of hours, phased retirement, leaves and sabbaticals. Employees may wish to choose a different work schedule or location to meet personal or family needs. No matter which program or how many options you make available, the duties, expectations and deadlines should be clearly outlined in a policy and agreed upon by both the supervisor and the employee.

23. Group benefits plan policy: Health and life insurance Employers are not required to provide employee benefit plans. However, if an employer does decide to provide benefits, the rules against discrimination under the local employment standards legislation must be complied with. Employment standards law prohibits employers from discrimination between employees or their dependents, beneficiaries or survivors because of the age, sex or marital status of the employee. A policy helps employers, their management and supervisors understand their responsibilities and employees understand their rights. Your firm’s benefits policy should spell out what employees get and at what cost.

24. Drug and alcohol policy: Today, a drugs and alcohol policy may have multiple purposes: to address the harmful use of alcohol and drugs (i.e, abuse and addiction) and permitted uses (e.g., medical cannabis). Workplace substance abuse means the use of a potentially impairing substance to the point that it adversely affects performance or safety at work, either directly through intoxication or hangover, or indirectly through social or health problems.

25. A code of conduct policy: A code of conduct policy sets standards of ethical conduct and workplace behaviour that must be adhered to and can be added to or amended as needed. The policy can include issues such as personal and professional responsibilities and accountabilities in dealing with employees, colleagues and clients. It can also set standards for dress, grooming and appearance and the use of law firm’s facilities and resources.

26. Dress code: Some companies prefer to allow employees to dress freely or casually for comfort, which works in more creative work environments. However, where employees routinely interact with prospective customers, clients and business partners, a company typically needs a dress code to maintain a professional image.

27. Performance management policy: Employee performance management should relate employees’ work performance and achievements to the operational and strategic performance of the law firm. You are not required by law to have a performance management policy and procedures. Rather than leaving this to chance, you’ll do your law firm and your employees a big favour if you implement a well-designed and documented performance management policy and process to ensure and demonstrate objective and fair decision making regarding compensation, promotion, disciplinary action and terminations.

28. Employee expense policy: Employees often incur expenses when travelling for work, meeting with clients, or attending conferences and trade shows, among other events. These business expenses are usually covered or reimbursed by the law firm. The procedures for how such expenses are approved, what are reasonable and appropriate expenses, the reimbursement amounts, the guidelines for submitting expenses are usually communicated to the employee through an expense policy

29. Whistleblower policy: A whistleblower is an employee, former employee or member of a law firm who reports misconduct to people or entities that can take corrective action. Whistleblowers may be ostracized by their co-workers, discriminated against by future potential employers, or even fired from their law firm. A whistleblower policy is needed to protect whistleblowers from these types of workplace reprisal.

30. Confidentiality policy:

While working for your law firm, employees may be exposed to confidential information about your clients, other employees and the law firm. Employees are expected to respect confidentiality at all times. A policy on confidentiality may include: - A statement of the types of information that are confidential - Consequences for breaching confidentiality - Training requirement

31. Hiring policy and procedures: Provide guidelines for filling a vacant position with the right candidate. The hiring decision is a major investment by a law firm and the policies around making this decision need to be clear.

HR Documentation Summary

- Recruitment and Hiring

Job Description and Specifications

Interview Evaluation Form

Application for Employment

Job Offer Letter with Terms and Conditions

Job Offer for Fixed Term Employment

Job Offer Letter Only

Employment Contract

Independent Contractor Agreement

Confidentiality and Proprietary Information Agreement

Hiring Check Chart for New Employees

Check Chart for Employee Orientation

Candidate Rejection Letter

Reference employment check form

Response to request for employment reference (poor performance)

Compensation and Benefits

Wage and Benefits Survey Form

Pay Increase Planning Worksheet

Annualized Pay Increase Summary

Calendarized Pay Increase Summary

Authorization Agreement for Electronic Deposit

Overtime Bank Agreement

Statement to Former Members

Statement to Current Members

Consent of Spouse/Partner to Cessation of Payment of Joint Survivor Benefits

Employee Loan Agreement

Pay in Lieu of Vacation Authorization Form

Vacation request form

- Attendance and Absenteeism Management

Leave of Absence Request and Response

Consent to Disclose Personal Health Information

Employee Sick Leave Request Form

Request for Leave of Absence Form

Return-to-Work Plan

Employee Accommodation Request Form

- Health and Safety

Safety Inspection Check Chart

Joint Health and Safety Committee Meeting Record

Functional Abilities Form

Physical Demands Analysis

Due Diligence Checklist

Employee Discipline Report for Health and Safety Violations

First Aid Incident Report Form

Occupational Health and Safety Self-Audit Checklist

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