When the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) of Ontario Act, 1990, came into force more than 20 years ago, it made the association a professional regulatory body and outlined many requirements for it to follow.
However, it took years for HRPA to realize it was a full-fledged professional regulatory body — and it has been working hard to catch up with the requirements over the past few years, according to Claude Balthazard, vice-president of regulatory affairs at HRPA.
“The fact that we just kind of caught onto it in the last couple of years doesn’t change the fact that it was always thus,” he said. “The awkward part for HRPA is it has to admit that we were collectively all somewhat asleep at the switch for many, many years.”
HRPA members have also been a bit confused, said Laura Frangella, HR advisor and principal of FocusedHR, a consulting firm in Toronto.
“Honestly, at first, I was not really completely aware,” she said. “They do have (all the information) on their website, but it’s a 300-page document. So who’s going to go and read that in detail? Probably not that many people.”
In September, the association published a 277-page HRPA Regulatory Framework which includes: statutes that shape HRPA’s regulatory obligations; the governance and organizational structure required to carry out regulatory functions; and policies, processes and procedures that define HRPA’s regulatory activities.
In catching up with the act, one of the big changes was the complete revamping of HRPA’s complaints, investigations and discipline process. A couple of years ago, the association realized it was subject to the Statutory Powers and Procedures Act — legislation that sets out minimum procedural standards for Ontario tribunals — and it scrambled to bring its processes up to standard, said Balthazard.
Previously, complaints and investigations were combined with discipline in a Complaints, Investigations and Discipline Committee.
“That’s a bit like having a police, judge and jury all in one group looking to determine guilt or innocence and any necessary sanctions,” said Bill Greenhalgh, CEO of the Toronto-based HRPA. “So, to be reasonable and fair, you’ve got to separate those two things out.”
Now, there is a Complaints and Investigations Committee (CIC) and a separate Discipline Committee. When a complaint is issued against an HRPA member — fewer than half-a-dozen complaints are received each year — the CIC reviews the complaint and determines if it is legitimate, he said.
There is some concern about malicious complaints, said Frangella.
“What if someone has a horrible, unrealistic manager who just has this horrible viewpoint of them, and it’s totally not validated, but then they go through this whole process of complaining?” she said.
The CIC’s assessment is meant to weed out those complaints that appear frivolous, vexatious or otherwise inappropriate to investigate, said Balthazard.
The CIC may interview witnesses or engage a third-party investigator. Once the investigation (if any) is complete, it can take any action it considers appropriate, including directing the matter to the Discipline Committee, which hears allegations of professional misconduct, incompetence or incapacity. The committee has summons powers and hearings are open to the public. All decisions can be appealed to HRPA’s Appeals Committee and its decisions can be appealed to the Ontario Divisional Court.
Another new component at HRPA is an enhanced public register, which was introduced in June. When first put online in 2009, it included each member’s name, member type and status. Now, the information includes business contact information (excluding email addresses), the member’s discipline history and any terms, conditions or limitations that may have been imposed on her registration.
“It’s about protection of the public,” said Greenhalgh.
But when personal information about an individual is published, it’s important to consider the applicable privacy laws, said Wendy Wagner, a partner at Gowlings law firm in Ottawa.
“There’s a broad definition of what is personal information and certainly that would include opinions about individuals, disciplinary actions taken against the individual, anything like that. And then the issue is: Does the association have an obligation to not disclose that information from a privacy law perspective?”
The information remains on the register indefinitely unless certain conditions are met, which are outlined in the HRPA Regulatory Framework.
The public register at the Human Resources Institute of Alberta (HRIA) — which has been temporarily taken down due to members receiving too many spam emails — only includes a member’s name, pre-authorized contact information and member status, said Nora Molina, executive director of the Calgary-based association. It does not include disciplinary information, though it may down the road.
When the association achieves self-regulation — which it is looking to pursue over the next three to five years — it would follow the practice of what regulated professions do, she said.
“And if there are certain ways that regulated professions have to disclose conduct information, then I’d certainly look at what would be the standards we would be required to follow.”
Good character requirement
Another way HRPA is catching up with its regulatory obligations is by implementing a good character requirement for new members. The requirement would ask applicants to inform the association of specific incidents in their past which might suggest issues with “good character,” such as criminal charges, convictions, incidents of academic dishonesty or disciplinary proceedings, said Balthazard. HRPA is hoping to have this in place by the new year.
HRIA is also planning to have such a requirement for new and renewing members in 2013, said Molina.
“When we have a certain level of trust that the public puts on individuals that are in unique positions of access to information, personal information, financial information… there’s an expectation of quality of service and professionalism and that attestation adds value and credibility to the process,” she said.
If an individual does attest to an incident, the application will not be immediately denied but an adjudicative panel will take a closer look and ask the applicant to explain her previous misconduct and make the case she is now of good character, said Balthazard.
“For example, if someone had been found guilty of embezzlement in the past, it might be difficult for them to become a chartered accountant. On the other hand, if someone is involved in civil litigation over someone who did work on their house and they didn’t pay for it, that has nothing to do with their profession,” said Greenhalgh.
While the good character requirement adds to the professionalism of the HR industry, one limiting factor is it relies on each individual to tell the truth, said Frangella.
“Is HRPA really going to go and research every single person?” she said. “How are they ever going to check all this?”
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