2011 – The year in HR

A look back at some of the top stories this past year
By Todd Humber
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 01/26/2012

For more than two decades, Canadian HR Reporter has had the privilege of covering the world of human resources. In fact, 2012 marks our 25th anniversary.

One thing that’s become clear over that time is there is never a boring year when it comes to covering the news that matters to HR professionals and employers — and 2011 was no exception.

Here’s a look at some of the top stories from 2011. To view any of the articles, click on the article number — the four- or five-digit number next to the date below. All subscribers to Canadian HR Reporter have unlimited access to the archive. To view the full year in review feature, sees pages 15 to 18 of the Jan. 16, 2012, issue.

AODA

Employers in Ontario spent the year preparing for Jan. 1, 2012 — the date when the Customer Service Standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) came into effect for private sector firms. And more deadlines loom on the horizon, as the province moves towards making Ontario fully accessible to all people with disabilities by 2025. ( Oct. 25, 11536.)

Benefits

Almost one-half of workers (46 per cent) aren’t taking their full vacation entitlement, found a survey of 627 employees. Fingers were pointed at heavier workloads and employees not feeling secure because of the economy. (March 14, 9734.)

There’s no denying the benefit of specialty drugs and biologics but plan sponsors are facing hefty bills for expensive new treatments. In response, some insurers are eliminating drug pooling on high-cost medications and some smaller employers may even have to cancel plans that could bankrupt them. (May 23, 10345.)

Quebec took the concept of work-life balance one step further by launching a certification standard. Employers can apply to have their workplaces evaluated, with four levels of certification available. (May 23, 10344.)

Manitoba introduced legislation that would make it easier for employers to have staff work flexible hours. Employment standards legislation in the province didn’t allow for changes to standard hours of work on a case-by-case basis, and the changes would be “hugely well- received” by employers and employees, said the executive director of the employment standards branch. (June 6, 10456.)

Telephone lines at employee assistance program (EAP) providers lit up during the economic downturn, and nearly two-thirds of the calls in 2010 for financial assistance were related to personal debt or credit issues. (Oct. 10, 11426.)

CHRP designation

The Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP) designation could benefit from a bit of fine-tuning, according to a study conducted by Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., the Human Resources Institute of Alberta (HRIA) and the International Personnel Management Association (IPMA). It found the top five critical pieces of knowledge required by HR were business acumen, employment law/legislation, talent management, broad HR knowledge and labour relations. (May 9, 10210.)

Compensation

A 10 per cent hike in the minimum wage across all provinces would lead to hiring freezes and cost 321,000 jobs, according to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB). (March 14, 9735.)

eHealth Ontario’s decision to rescind raises and bonuses left at least one compensation expert “absolutely floored.” The embattled government agency told staff they would be given raises of up to 1.9 per cent or bonuses up to 7.8 per cent. But just a few days later, following public outcry, the offer was withdrawn. (June 20, 10587.)

Vancity became the largest employer in Canada to adopt a living wage policy. The Vancouver-based credit union required suppliers providing more than 120 hours of service to include a living wage clause in requests for proposals. The living wage for Vancouver was pegged at $18.17 per hour and the move is expected to cost about $1 million over the next few years. (Aug. 15, 11002.)

Salary increases for 2012 were predicted to be in the three per cent range, but all the market turmoil and economic uncertainty could dampen those numbers. (Sept. 12, 11208.)

Executive compensation disclosure rules for publicly traded companies changed at the end of October. One key difference is companies must disclose whether the board of directors adequately considered the risks associated with compensation policies and practices. (Oct. 24, 11535.)

Conflict management

A survey by Quebec’s HR association found workplace conflict is on the rise — to the tune of a 36 per cent jump in the last five years. (April 11, 9974.)

Tension in the workplace is also leading to more sick days. Swedish research found stressful work situations increase the odds of employees calling in sick. (May 9, 10217.)

HR professionals might not be doing enough to help victims of bullying in the workplace. More than one-quarter of workers have been bullied and, of those who sought help from HR, 62 per cent said no action was taken, according to a United States study. (June 6, 10452.)

What’s the best response to anger and outbursts in the workplace? One survey said compassion, because it doesn’t escalate the situation and shows others you care about them. (June 6, 10454.)

The results of an exclusive Canadian HR Reporter survey found incivility is a common occurrence in workplaces. HR professionals also said they often don’t know how to respond and are keen to have more knowledge, tools and resources to deal with the issue. (Oct. 10, 11427.)

C-suite

How can an HR professional climb to the top of the org chart? We asked five CEOs why so few HR executives are promoted into the CEO role, and what skills and qualities they need to make that leap. (May 23, 10338.)

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again — HR has arrived as a profession. That statement was backed up by a survey of CEOs that found they need strong leaders in the HR department and believe HR is making solid contributions in many strategic areas. (June 6, 10457.)

Diversity

Women are missing from the boardrooms, as barely one-tenth of directors in Canada were female in 2011, a paltry increase of 0.7 percentage points from 2009. (May 9, 10218.)

Not only are they absent from the senior ranks, one study even found problems with the photos used in the pages of corporate annual reports. Women in the photos chosen were younger, more likely to be smiling and less likely to be dressed professionally, it found. (Jan. 31, 8950.)

The Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC) honoured the work of firms and individuals with its fifth annual Immigrant Success Awards, of which Canadian HR Reporter is a sponsor. Michael MacKenzie of Thales Canada Transportation, Nancy Steele of American Express Canada, Catherine Parsonage of the Toronto Foundation for Student Success and Yezdi Pavri of Deloitte took home the hardware. (March 28, 9842.)

The Hire Immigrants Ottawa Employer Awards recognized employers in the capital for their work in hiring and retaining skilled immigrants. MBNA Canada, Citizenship and Immigration Canada and Vanier Community Service Centre were honoured. (April 11, 9973.)

Mike Bradley, mayor of Sarnia, Ont., laid down the gauntlet in challenging municipalities to hire people with disabilities. Experts touted the many benefits, including lower turnover and higher staff morale. (June 6, 10444.)

Engagement

Confirming something HR professionals instinctively know, a study out of the United Kingdom found the extent to which managers provide employees with guidance, feedback and autonomy has a significant impact on engagement levels. Based on the data, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) identified 11 key competencies that drive engagement. (April 25, 10086.)

The employers with the most engaged employees were honoured with a place on the 50 Most Engaged Workplaces in Canada list. Best practices included approachable CEOs, staff appreciation days, employee input in designing office space and performance management systems. (Sept. 26, 11309.)

Employment law

Page 5 of every issue features a look at interesting employment law cases. Like every other year, 2011 had its highlights — or perhaps, more appropriately, lowlights — of employees and employers misbehaving. Every time we think we’ve seen it all, a new case comes out of the woodwork. Here are a few memorable ones from the past year:

•A new CEO at a candy manufacturer thought some of the employees were overpaid. One worker’s salary was unilaterally cut from more than $100,000 to $85,000 and then again to $60,000. The worker’s $30,000 bonus was also cut. The worker stayed with the company but sued and won the difference. (Jan. 17, 8787.)

•In a classic case of guilt by association, an airport worker was fired for abusing sick leave. The worker, who injured her knee, happened to live with another airport worker who was under surveillance for sick leave abuse. An arbitrator determined the airport had preconceived notions she was being dishonest and didn’t weigh the facts of her case on its own merits. She was awarded $500,000, though $50,000 in mental distress damages were stripped out on appeal. (March 14, 9732.)

•Mixing employees and a hot tub — what could possibly go wrong? A woman filed a complaint of sexual harassment following shenanigans at a company retreat, but a human rights tribunal ruled there was no evidence of harassment. It did, however, criticize the company for not conducting an investigation and ordered it to train management on obligations and develop a written human rights policy. (March 28, 9837.)

•An Ontario judge awarded a music store worker who was fired after 30 years on the job — after she was diagnosed with cancer — two years’ notice plus $55,000 in damages. In awarding the damages, the court called the employer’s treatment of the worker “callous and insensitive.” (April 25, 10084.)

•A project manager at Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) with environmental sensitivities was awarded $18,000 after her new manager ended a work-from-home agreement. (June 20, 10582.)

•A verbal threat constituted workplace violence in Ontario under Bill 168, as proven by a case involving a City of Kingston worker. (Oct. 10, 11421.)

•Following a fatal bus accident where a driver had drugs in his possession, the Toronto Transit Commission announced it would randomly test employees for drug and alcohol use. (Nov. 21, 11775.)

Health and safety

Ontario’s health and safety system was overhauled in 2011, powered by recommendations from the Expert Advisory Panel on Occupational Health and Safety led by Tony Dean. The panel made 46 recommendations on how to improve safety in the wake of a Christmas Eve 2009 construction accident in Toronto that killed four workers and seriously injured another. (Jan. 17, 8792.)

We also talked with George Gritziotis, Ontario’s new chief prevention officer, who talked about zero tolerance and how critical it is for organizations to take workplace safety seriously. (Sept. 26, 11307.)

When a hotel guest drowned at an unsupervised swimming pool at Blue Mountain Ski Resort in Collingwood, Ont., the employer didn’t contact the Ministry of Labour since an employee wasn’t injured or killed on the job. But that was the wrong decision because employers are required to notify the ministry if a non-worker is killed or injured at the workplace if the hazard that caused the incident also presents a safety risk to workers. (July 18, 10799.)

Manitoba amended its Workplace Safety and Health Regulation, putting in place numerous measures to prevent violence in the workplace. (Sept. 12, 11207.)

HR awards

Canadian HR Reporter, in partnership with the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA), honoured the top HR professionals in Canada at the 2011 Human Resources Summit Awards. Winners included Ruth Brothers (HR Professional of the Year), Melissa Gare (Rising Star Award) and Kim Forgues (Corporate Social Responsibility Award). (Feb. 28, 9624.)

The Human Resource Management Association of Manitoba (HRMAM) honoured the best in the province. Recipients were Jodi Funk-Clements (Rising Star Award), Barbara Bowes (Visionary Leader Award) and Dave Leschasin (Innovative Practitioner Award).(May 9, 10216.)

The Human Resources Institute of Alberta (HRIA) honoured the top HR professionals in the province at its Celebrating Excellence Awards. Recipients were: Adam Czarnecki (Award of Excellence) and Alexis MacDonald (Rising Star Award). For the first time, HRIA handed out Fellow CHRP (FCHRP) designations, honouring professionals who have made outstanding contributions. The first two recipients were Brian Foster and Mel Zimmerman.(May 23, 10343.)

Human rights

What happens when human rights clash? That question arose in Saskatchewan after the rights of government-appointed marriage commissioners to refuse to marry same-sex partners on religious grounds were weighed against the rights of gay and lesbian individuals to marry. A court ruled the commissioners couldn’t refuse to perform the services. (March 14, 9738.)

The deadline for complying with Quebec’s pay equity legislation passed on Dec. 31, 2010, and about 200 complaints were filed in the first couple of months. (March 28, 9836.)

What’s the top human rights beef? Complaints related to disabilities, according to the Canadian Human Rights Commission. In its 2010 annual report, it said 44 per cent of complaints were related to disabilities, up from 38 per cent in 2009. (May 9, 10213.)

More than three-quarters of HR professionals surveyed by the HRPA said Ontario’s human rights tribunal is biased against employers. They were also concerned about nuisance claims and a lengthy process. (Aug. 15, 11006.)

Jury leave

Frustrated by a dearth of jury no-shows, a judge calculated that between 11 per cent and 21 per cent of prospective jurors inBrampton,Ont., have avoided appearing for duty. It served as a reminder of the penalties for employers that don’t grant leave for employees, including fines and jail time. (April 25, 10090.)

Labour relations

Two locals of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) merged in Ontario to form a “super local” of 60,000 employees. The basic idea? If the union pools its resources, it can provide better service to members. (Aug. 15, 10998.)

An arbitrator ruled medical residents at McGill University Health Centre in Montreal will no longer have to work 24-hour shifts, as the collective agreement violated both the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms. (Sept. 26, 11312.)

The editors of Canadian Labour Reporter highlighted some unusual provisions in collective agreements, including one where wage increases for construction workers in Alberta were tied to the price of oil. (Oct. 24, 11527.)

Former Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) union boss Buzz Hargrove came out swinging against interference from Ottawa during labour disputes at Air Canada and Canada Post, calling it “anti-democratic” and “un-Canadian.” (Nov. 7, 11657.)

Labour shortage

Last year continued to be tough on the economic front in many areas of the country, but dark clouds remain in the forecast when it comes to labour shortages. After all, 2011 was the year the first wave of baby boomers turned 65. But with the elimination of mandatory retirement, and the collapse of investment savings, many older workers are planning on sticking around longer. (Jan. 31, 8951.)

But some older workers who were laid off can’t find work at a comparable salary to what they had been earning and are opting to retire and head into their golden years rather than take a pay cut. (March 28, 9839.)

British Columbia’s green economy is booming and a shortage of 60,000 skilled workers is expected by 2020. That’s bad news for an industry predicted to account for up to 14 per cent of the province’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 10 years. (Jan. 31, 8947.)

IT workers are also expected to be hard to come by over the next five years. Canadian employers will need to hire 106,000 IT workers between 2011 and 2016 and systemic shortages are expected for those with experience. (June 6, 10449.)

The energy sector is already facing labour brownouts and the problem is only expected to get worse. The industry is battling poor public perception while hiring blackouts in the 1990s have translated into gaps in skill sets. (July 18, 10790.)

Organizational effectiveness

The City of Ottawa unveiled plans to spend $20 million over four years to improve the mobility and efficiency of workers. The idea is to free workers up so they aren’t bound to a physical location to get their work completed, and will involve technology and performance management enhancements. (June 20, 10583.)

Pensions

Raising the eligibility age for the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) from 65 to 67 would save $20 billion over the next four decades and should be part of any pension reform plan, according to a report out of the University of Toronto. (Jan. 17, 8793.)

In what experts hailed as a precedent-setting case, an arbitrator ruled St. Mary’s Cement had the right to unilaterally change its pension plan for union members from defined benefit (DB) to defined contribution (DC). The ruling hinged on wording in the plan — common to many plans — that the company “reserves the right to amend the plan or discontinue the plan either in whole or in part at any time.” (Jan. 17, 8791.)

Pooled registered pension plans (PRPPs) were pushed by the federal government as a solution to provide coverage for workers without pension plans. (Jan. 31, 8952.)

Prince Edward Island finally jumped on the legislation bandwagon, introducing a Pension Benefits Act that lays out rules and standards for employer pension plans. Every other province already has pension legislation. (Jan. 31, 8949.)

Facing an aging population that is living longer, Quebec announced changes to the Quebec Pension Plan (QPP) to reward later retirement. (April 25, 10089.)

Performance management

Looking for high performers? Then focus on employees with high levels of honesty and humility. A U.S. study found employees with high levels of these traits are the most likely to receive glowing performance reviews. That’s because these employees are self-aware, know their limitations and take ownership of their mistakes. (April 11, 9972.)

Pulse survey

The monthly Pulse Survey, conducted by Canadian HR Reporter and the HRPA, took the pulse of professionals across the country. Some findings from 2011:

•Rogue managers are a big problem for employers, as 84.3 per cent of respondents said at least one out of every 10 managers fall into the “problem manager” category. (Jan. 17, 8783.)

•Globalization is having a big or huge impact on 44.4 per cent of respondents’ HR practices. (Feb. 14, 9505.)

•HR professionals were optimistic about 2011 — 61.1 per cent expected it to be a better year than 2010 and 55.8 per cent expected staffing levels to increase. (March 14, 9730.)

•Telework is expected to rise over the next few years, with 85.8 per cent of respondents expecting an increase in the number of employees telecommuting. (Aug. 15, 10996.)

•With only 25 per cent of respondents concerned about the impact of baby boomers retiring, the question was raised — in an era without mandatory retirement, and workers staying on the job longer, have boomers become workplace pariahs? (Sept. 26, 11306.)

•Aboriginal workers are underused in the workforce, according to 74 per cent of respondents. The biggest reasons cited were a lack of candidates and lack of academic qualifications. (Oct. 24, 11537.)

Recruitment

As the economy recovered, counter offers made a comeback — not a positive sign for employers that are overpaying and making ad hoc promotions and organizational shifts to hold onto staff. (May 9, 10208.)

A new labour agreement — the North West Partnership Trade Agreement (NWPTA) — eased the flow of certified workers in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan. (June 20, 10585.)

Much to the delight of cross-border shoppers, U.S. retailer Target announced plans to open stores in Canada. Expansion plans include converting 125 to 135 former Zellers stores in 2013 and hiring 150 to 200 employees per store — about 50 per cent more per location than Zellers employed. (Sept. 26, 11314.)

Relocation

Relocation was on the rise in 2011, with the movement of employees expected to return to pre-recession levels. The U.S., U.K. and China were the top destinations for employees, according to a survey. (Aug. 15, 11004.)

Social media

Damian Goddard, a TV host at Rogers Sportsnet, was fired after he tweeted his support for a hockey agent who was critical of same-sex marriage. The incident raised a host of concerns for employers, including appropriate penalties for social media and liability for comments made by employees. (June 6, 10455.)

How is HR using social media? Interviews with five senior HR leaders found they’re using it for recruiting, branding, communicating with staff and gathering feedback. (Nov. 21, 11771.)

Wellness

There is a significant communications disconnect between employers and employees when it comes to wellness. While 60 per cent of employers offer wellness programs, just 23 per cent of employees said their employers promote or provide such programs, according to a survey. (July 18, 10794.)

Whistleblowing

Some might remember 2011 as the “year of the whistleblower.” High-profile incidents, such as the News of the World phone hacking scandal, the sexual abuse scandal at Penn State University in University Park, Pa, that toppled legendary football coach Joe Paterno and, ironically, problems at the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commission of Canada, dominated the headlines. (Jan. 17, 8789.)


Most popular videos

Top 10 videos on hrreporter.com in 2011

1. Hiring for culture fit at Lululemon Athletica.

2. Suspicious sick leave — signs to look for when an employer suspects a worker is malingering.

3. New work reintegration program at Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB).

4. Changing employee benefits at grocery chain Longos.

5. Using social media to find workers.

6. Buzz Hargrove discusses the state of collective bargaining.

7. Mental health at KPMG.

8. Fostering employee engagement: How the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan (HOOPP) raised its engagement score from 52 per cent to 91 per cent.

9. Total rewards at Holt Renfrew.

10. Mental health, addiction in the workplace.


Best web reading

Top 10 articles on hrreporter.com in 2011

1. 2011 HR Summit Award winners announced (9000).

2. Age discrimination, mental health common human rights complaints: Report (9903).

3. Many Canadian employers see no cutbacks in 2011: Survey (9905).

4. Most depressing day of the year is here (8797).

5. Proposed Ontario law moves HR profession forward: HRPA (8730).

6. 1,500 more jobs to be cut in public service: Ontario budget (9847).

7. Corporate tax cuts not delivering on job creation: CCPA (9909).

8. Bloc Québécois leader calls asbestos safe despite new report (9920).

9. N.L. wage subsidy program to help apprentices (9889).

10. New HRPA legislation passes first reading (8604).


Must-read blogs

Top 10 blogs on hrreporter.com in 2011

1. Dust off and update that employee handbook.

2. What not to wear at work.

3. 30 low-cost ways to boost employee engagement.

4. When non-HR professionals do HR work.

5. Common sense, a little heart avoid a lot of problems.

6. Are boomers becoming workplace pariahs?

7. Terminations 101 (Part 1).

8. ‘I pity the fool’ who doesn’t hire HR.

9. Terminations 101 (Part 4).

10. Are you ready for the market upturn?


Labour disruptions

Strikes, lockouts from 2011

Picket signs went up across the country throughout 2011. Here’s a look at some of the biggest strikes and lockouts from last year:

Canada Post: About 50,000 postal workers were locked out from June 15 to June 27. There were also rotating strikes across the country from June 3 to June 14. The major issues were wages, sick leave and pensions.

Ontario Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology: About 8,000 support workers across the province were on strike from Sept. 1 to Sept. 20. The major issues were wages and benefits.

Air Canada: About 3,800 sales and service agents across the country went on strike from June 14 to June 17. The major issues were wages and pensions.

Government of Quebec: About 2,100 health and welfare employees across the province went on a one-day strike on Sept. 19. The major issues were work schedule and wages.

Université de Sherbrooke: About 1,300 support staff at the university in Sherbrooke, Que., went on a two-day strike on July 5. The major issue was wages.

US Steel Canada: Nearly 950 employees were locked out in Hamilton from Nov. 7, 2010, to Oct. 15, 2011. The major issue was pensions.

Government of Quebec: About 900 lawyers across the province went on strike from Feb. 8 to Feb. 22. The major issue was wages.

Bombardier: About 720 production employees in Thunder Bay, Ont., went on strike from Aug. 9 to Aug. 15. The major issues were wages, benefits and pensions.

Finning Canada: About 700 service and maintenance employees in British Columbia went on strike from June 22 to Aug. 4. The major issues were wages, benefits and subcontracting.

Teck Resources: About 700 mine employees in Sparwood, B.C., went on strike from Jan. 30 to April 7. The major issue was pensions.

Source: Human Resources and Skills Development Canada

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