Looking back at 2012

A brief look at some of the top stories that graced the pages of Canadian HR Reporter in the past year
By Todd Humber
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 01/15/2013

How to use this year in review

At the end of each item, you’ll see — in brackets — the issue date where the article appeared along with a five-digit identification number.

All subscribers to Canadian HR Reporter have unlimited access to the archive, which features more than 11,000 articles dating back to 2000.

Drug testing pilot project

Nine employers in the oilsands and construction sectors, in co-operation with the Alberta government and labour unions, launched a two-year drug and alcohol testing pilot project that includes random testing of employees. Its goal is to establish best practices around testing and develop guidelines for case management, assessment and followup. (However, the program has since been halted by two courts pending a union grievance.) Random testing can reduce accidents. For example, a 2009 study by New York’s Columbia University found random alcohol testing reduced fatal crashes by 23 per cent. (Aug. 13, 13659.)

Regulating HR in Ontario

The second time wasn’t the charm in Ontario for the Act respecting the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA). The private member’s bill — known as Bill 28, which would have regulated the human resources profession in the province in a manner similar to accountants — was reintroduced at the end of 2011. (Jan. 16, 12098.)

Its earlier incarnation, Bill 138, wasn’t passed before the legislature adjourned for a provincial election in 2011. Bill 28 was introduced by three MPPs, one Liberal, one Progressive Conservative and one NDP, but despite the tripartite support it didn’t pass before Premier Dalton McGuinty announced his surprise resignation and suspended parliament. But HRPA isn’t standing pat.

Claude Balthazard, vice-president of regulatory affairs at HRPA, said the association now realizes its current legislation, passed in 1990, made it a full-fledged professional regulatory body. “The awkward part for HRPA is it has to admit that we were collectively all somewhat asleep at the switch for many, many years,” he said. In September, the association published a 277-page regulatory framework. Among the changes are an enhanced public register and a good character requirement for new members. (Nov. 19, 16730.)

Memo to the C-suite: Engagement equals cash

HR professionals have always known an engaged workforce translates into a healthy bottom line. And a study by Towers Watson confirmed it — companies with high engagement scores have profit margins almost three times larger than organizations with disengaged workers. That’s the kind of statistic that will create a buzz in the boardroom. (Aug. 13, 13660.)

Human capital standard proposed

The Alexandria, Va.-based Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) caused a bit of a stir in HR circles when it announced it was overseeing the development of a voluntary human capital reporting standard. It would see companies report on six areas: spending on human capital, the ability to retain talent, leadership depth, leadership quality, employee engagement and human capital discussion and analysis. The idea is investors could find the measures useful as a performance indicator for organizations. (Oct. 22, 16532.)

High toll of abrasive leaders

An exclusive survey of Canadian HR Reporter readers measured the severe toll abrasive leaders can take on employees and the bottom line. Side effects of bad bosses include higher turnover, increased stress and decreased team performance. (Oct. 22, 16533.) (You can download a free copy of the survey at (www.hrreporter.com/abrasive-leaders.)

Another addition to the ‘family status’

Employers have become used to the notion of accommodation based on a worker’s family status. But a ruling by Ontario’s Human Rights Tribunal expanded the definition of family status further in 2012 when it ruled a long-time worker — an architect who was frequently out of the office to care for his ailing mother — had been discriminated against. (Oct. 8, 16428.)

Feel busier? You are

HR’s workload is increasing. That’s the conclusion from some number crunching by the Vancouver-based HR Metrics Service. HR professionals were handling a workload in the first quarter of 2012 that was significantly higher than in 2009, and they were doing it with fewer resources than they had three years ago. (Sept. 24, 13941.)

Get up and move that body

We all know smoking is bad for your health, as is carrying around extra pounds. But physical inactivity is now thought to be just as bad for your health, which is bad news for all the desk jockeys across the country. Employers can help by making standing desks available or encouraging employees to get up and walk around on a regular basis — perhaps by visiting a colleague instead of emailing and using printers further away from their desks. (Sept. 10, 13832.)

Right under your nose

Where can you find the best candidate for that promotion? Just look at who’s already on your payroll. That’s the
conclusion of a study that found not only are external hires paid more, but they don’t perform as well as internal successors. Matthew Bidwell, author of the study and an assistant professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, summed it up thusly: “The obvious puzzle this raises is why on earth is a company hiring anybody (externally) given that these people do worse and get paid more?” (July 16, 13512.)

BMI a KPI?

You’ve got the qualifications, you’ve got the experience — but do you have the waistline? One hospital in Texas issued a controversial hiring policy, refusing to hire anyone with a body mass index (BMI) over 35 — or the equivalent of someone who is five feet five inches and weighs 210 pounds. “The majority of our patients are over 65 and they have expectations that cannot be ignored in terms of personal appearance,” said the hospital’s CEO. (May 21, 13137.)

Baby boomer bonus

Australia’s government came up with an innovative way to encourage employers to hire older workers — it put a bounty on them. It offered employers $1,000 for every worker over the age of 50 who was hired and retained for at least three months. The government pointed out that older workers have lower absenteeism and higher retention rates, and it hoped the cash incentive would smash stereotypes about older workers. It set aside $10 million over the next four years for the program. (May 21, 13138.)

Cash isn’t king – it’s not even a pawn…

Employers have known for some time that cash is a poor motivator for employees. But did you know it doesn’t even crack the top 10 list? Things such as customer orientation, achievement, inspiration, identity and purpose, and fun and enjoyment have a far greater impact than money, according to a survey of North American workers. (May 7, 13010.)

… unless you’re hiring

Money may not be a motivator, but it’s tops when it comes to enticing talent, according to a WorldatWork survey. Two of the top three reasons why star performers quit are tied to their bank accounts — they leave to earn more money elsewhere or they feel their pay levels are unfair relative to others outside the organization. (Sept. 24, 13945.)

Soaring drug costs

Insurance companies from across the country joined forces to combat the cost of high-priced drugs by splitting the cost of the most expensive claims. A total of 24 insurance companies signed on to a drug-pooling framework to protect fully insured private drug plans from the full brunt of expensive medications. In 2010, more than 1,900 individual claims had an annual cost of more than $25,000, and the number of these expensive claims has been increasing more than 20 per cent per year since 2008, according to the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association. (May 7, 13014.)

Plan sponsors and insurers also made a push for the increased use of cheaper generic drugs by rejecting claims for brand name drugs. Between 2011 and 2012, Sun Life saw a significant increase in the number of prescriptions coming in from doctors with “no substitution” written on them. (Oct. 8, 16426.)

Here we grow again

Last year was an exciting one for the Canadian HR Reporter family as we added a new magazine — Canadian Occupational Safety (COS) — to our ranks. In addition to the print and digital editions of the magazine, COS also has a dynamic daily presence and it presents the prestigious Canada’s Safest Employers Awards annually. The second annual awards were held in Toronto in October, with hundreds of professionals coming together to honour the safest employers in the country. For more information about the awards, including how to nominate your company, visit www.SafestEmployers.com.

We also have big plans for the future of this publication. Starting in 2013, it will publish eight issues per year, up from its previous frequency of six. For more information, and to request a free subscription, go to www.cos-mag.com. You can also follow it on Twitter @cosmagazine.

Babies at work

Do babies belong in the workplace? That was one of the headlines that graced our cover in 2012 after a city councillor in Brazeau County, Alta., regularly brought her daughter to meetings. A fellow councillor complained the council chambers and meetings rooms had been “turned into a nursery.” Weeks earlier, Sana Hassainia, an NDP MP from Quebec, was asked by a parliamentary page to leave the House of Commons because she was holding her three-month-old son. One expert opined it should be “a very rare exception when women bring babies to work… not the norm.” (April 23, 12902.)

He shoots, he hires

Employers in Alberta’s oil patch dropped the gloves in their search for talent, sponsoring junior hockey games in the Western Hockey League (WHL) in an effort to raise awareness throughout the Western provinces. In addition to in-game signage, one firm did the ceremonial puck drop and handed out company-branded pucks to fans. The oilsands employed more than 20,000 workers in 2011 and is projected to grow its workforce by 73 per cent by 2021. (May 7, 13012.)

Job ‘o the Irish

Employers from Western Canada, starved for talent, headed to Ireland for a two-day job fair that drew more than 20,000 jobseekers in Dublin. The line to get into the fair was more than one kilometre long. SaskPower, which hoped to come away with about 30 serious applicants, came back with 500 resumés. Saskatchewan is anticipating up to 90,000 job openings across the province over the next decade and said Ireland — which has an unemployment rate of 14.6 per cent — is a good source because so many Saskatchewanians are of Irish descent. (April 23, 12903.)

Overhauling immigration

Ottawa made a promise to make Canada’s immigration system fast and flexible by putting more of an emphasis on skilled workers, improving the recognition of foreign credentials and building a massive job bank in an effort to better meet labour market demands. (May 7, 13015.) Later in the year, it proposed changes to the Federal Skilled Worker Program to put more of an emphasis on trades, language skills and younger immigrants. (Sept. 24, 13949.)

Roll up those sleeves, or else

British Columbia announced plans to implement a mandatory flu shot policy for health-care workers. About 50 per cent of health-care workers in the province receive the shot, but the province wants to see that figure at about 85 per cent. Employees who refused a vaccine would be required to wear a mask. (Sept. 24, 13948.) But later in the year, the province backed away from the mandatory plan, focusing — for now — on worker compliance.

Still stuck in the past

Last year was 2012 but, at times, it felt like the calendar was still stuck in the 1950s when it comes to women’s rights. Pregnancy complaints were on the rise last year, according to numerous human rights commissions across Canada. About one-half of the pregnancy discrimination cases a British Columbia human rights coalition dealt with involved pregnant employees being terminated. And too many women continue to experience discrimination after returning from maternity leave. (April 9, 12786.)

And while women are occupying more seats at the boardroom table, the pace is glacial. It has taken 17 years for the percentage of board seats occupied by women to rise from six per cent to 10 per cent, meaning it would take 45 years for the figure to hit 25 per cent. (April 9, 12788.)

Pay equity continues to be a struggle. Just when one battle is won, another hurdle seems to appear. The Canadian Union of Public Employees pointed out that at a hospital and a school board in Ontario, positions dominated by men had a shorter path to the top wage grid. But an Ontario court ruled that as long as the top pay rate is the same in comparable job classes, pay equity is achieved. (July 10, 13513.)

Status update: You’re hired

Ever poked around Facebook while checking out a candidate? The information you uncover might be more useful than you think. A study that looked at the “big five” personality traits — conscientiousness, emotional stability, agreeableness, openness to experience and extroversion — found there was enough behavioural residue on many Facebook profiles to provide “reasonably reliable estimates.” One expert speculated it may be even more reliable than self-rated tests.

But don’t get too excited before you log on and start checking profiles with abandon. There are legal pitfalls, such as human rights and privacy concerns, and the potential for misidentifying people. And don’t start asking candidates for their social media passwords — it may not be technically illegal but it’s not a best practice. Facebook itself has made sharing or soliciting a password a violation of its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities and Ontario’s privacy commissioner warned against the practice, calling it “fundamentally wrong.” (April 9, 12789.)

Commissioner ‘likes’ privacy

Alberta’s privacy czar tried to provide guidance to employers when it came to social media background checks. With so many employers checking out Facebook profiles during recruitment — and some going so far as to ask for passwords — the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta released Guidelines for Social Media Background Checks. Risks to employers include collecting inaccurate or out-of-date information, gathering too much personal information and collecting third-party information without consent. (Jan. 30, 12212.)

Religion at work

The British government went to the European Court to argue Christians do not have a right to openly wear a cross at work. One of the cases involved a British Airways employee who was suspended in 2006 for refusing to take off her cross, which the airline said breached its uniform code. But on this side of the pond, experts said a better tactic is to accommodate religious symbols at the workplace unless there’s a legitimate health and safety issue. After all, employers have a duty to accommodate employees “up to the point of undue hardship.” (April 9, 12791.)

Accommodation expenses

Many employers provide subsidies for personal assistive devices — such as hearing aids, reading glasses and prosthetics — through benefit plans. But a court ruling found employers may be required to pay for these devices in full for employees with disabilities who need them for accommodation reasons. The case involved a high school teacher with a hearing disability who requested reimbursement for digital hearing aids. This could become a significant bottom-line issue for organizations as the workforce ages. (March 26, 12663.)

Step away from the potato chips…

The poor diet of shift workers should be considered an occupational health and safety hazard, according to an editorial in PLoS Medicine, published by the Public Library of Science in San Francisco. A comprehensive study of nurses in the United States found a strong correlation between shift work and Type 2 diabetes. It’s also thought shift workers are more likely to be obese because of the disruption in circadian rhythms, and one of the tactics employers can use is to make more healthy food options available to workers on the night shift. (Feb. 13, 12349.) A link was also made between shift work and heart attacks and strokes — night workers faced the steepest increase (41 per cent) for a coronary event. (Sept. 10, 13829.)

…and put down that BlackBerry

The proliferation of smartphones has meant employees with company-issued devices are available 24-7. That could pose headaches for employers when it comes to after-hours emails and texts and the issue of unpaid overtime. In Brazil, a law approved by the country’s president would see employees who answer work-related emails on their smartphones after hours being compensated for overtime. In Canada, the issue isn’t as black-and-white as that, and many employers have unclear policies. (March 26, 12661.)

Free interns expensive

Love them or hate them, unpaid internships have been part of the corporate scene for decades. But a former intern for Harper’s Bazaar in New York launched a class-action lawsuit, claiming she worked at least 40 hours per week, and as many as 55, without pay during her five-month placement. She was seeking minimum wage pay and overtime pay in damages. The topic is such a hot one that law firms devoted exclusively to intern law have been popping up in the United States. It served as a good reminder for Canadian employers to ensure they understand the employment standards regulations for unpaid workers in their jurisdiction. (March 26, 12664.)

CHRP boosts career: Study

One story that generated a lot of reader interest was a study that looked at what the Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP) meant for an HR professional’s career and earning power. Payscale, which crunched the numbers on behalf of the Toronto-based Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA), found professionals with the designation earned more than those without and rose through the ranks more quickly. Depending on the position, the CHRP had a salary premium of anywhere from two per cent (or a premium of $2,100) in the case of HR directors up to 16 per cent (a premium of $9,800) for HR managers. (Feb. 27, 12428.)

Employment law

Just like on television, some of the best drama comes out of the courtroom. Last year was no exception, with employment law editor Jeffrey R. Smith and our team of external lawyers digging out some of the most interesting cases, including:

Lies, damned lies and termination: A British Columbia worker caught with a prostitute in a company vehicle lost his job not because of the encounter but because he lied about it when confronted. (Jan. 16, 12092.)

Lies, damned lies and termination – the sequel: Continuing on the dishonesty theme, an Ontario public sector worker lost his job after lying to his employer — twice — about criminal charges he was facing related to charges he defrauded the federal government out of $150,000 in a previous role. (Feb. 27, 12422.)

Turning the tables on notice: Usually, the headline on page 5 of each issue tells the tale of an employer being penalized for not providing enough notice to a terminated employee. But the tables were turned in a case involving GasTOPS, an Ottawa-based industrial machinery firm. After four key workers at the firm quit, giving two weeks’ notice before setting up a competing firm, a court awarded the employer $20 million — which was upheld by the Ontario Court of Appeal. (March 26, 12658.)

Rough cuts: A jury awarded a sawmill worker in British Columbia $800,000, including $573,000 in punitive damages, because of the way the employer handled the termination of the worker. The conduct included unsupported allegations of cause and failing to provide him with any notice. (Sept. 10, 13828.)

Express termination line: How long can an employee keep calling in sick before he’s fired? In the case of a grocery store worker in Ontario, the answer is three weeks. The worker called in sick on April 9, 2012, and missed all 16 of his shifts over the next three weeks, calling in each day without providing medical documentation. (Oct. 8, 16429.)

Behaving badly

Two RIM vice-presidents were fired after their drunk and belligerent behaviour forced an Air Canada flight from Toronto to Beijing to divert to Vancouver. Their actions were so extreme they had to be subdued by flight attendants and passengers, and one of them even chewed through his plastic handcuffs. A judge said the behaviour of the men put RIM’s reputation on the line. Bill Armstrong, a lawyer at Armstrong Management Lawyers in Calgary, called the behaviour “so outrageous that any company would be justified (in terminating their employment) whether it was a public issue or not.” (Jan. 16, 12096.)

I spy…

Is your organization throwing out secrets? Dumpster diving is one of the more common forms of espionage, according to a former Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) officer. Social engineering — where individuals start hanging out where employees socialize and befriending them — is another tactic for prying into corporate secrets. (Jan. 16, 12093.)

Memo to HR: Take ownership of metrics

HR professionals aren’t the only ones with their eyes on metrics — other departments are salivating about them too, which means HR has to be proactive in measuring and interpreting the data. Accountants, for example, came knocking on the door of the British Columbia Human Resources Management Association (BC HRMA) — which runs the HR Metrics Service — asking about training for its members on HR metrics. (Jan. 16, 12091.)

Spike in mental stress claims?

A ruling by Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal potentially opened the door to more mental stress claims in the province. In the past, traumatic mental stress benefits were only available when a claimant experienced an event that presented a real or implied threat to her physical well-being. The ruling held that a physical threat was not required, “widening the circumstances under which an employee might be able to get compensation,” said Julie-Anne Cardinal, a lawyer at Heenan Blaikie in Toronto. (Jan. 30, 12211.)

Double-doubling severance leaves bitter taste

Donald Schroeder, former CEO of Tim Hortons, received a $5.75-million severance package on his way out the door, but generous severance payments to top executives can actually hurt an organization’s performance, according to research out of Tulane University in New Orleans. The key is how the severance package is structured — firms that awarded cash-only packages underperformed ones that included the vesting of the equity component. Which only makes sense — if a CEO knows the size of the package will be impacted by how well the firm performs after he’s left, he has more incentive to keep it on a solid, long-term foundation. (Jan. 30, 12209.)

So does double-doubling wages

A Tim Hortons franchise is usually a licence to print money. But one outlet at St. John’s Health Sciences Centre in Newfoundland and Labrador lost $260,000 in the last fiscal year. The reason? It was staffed by hospital employees making $28 per hour in wages and benefits to dole out $1.94 large coffees. The hospital turned over the operation to the private sector. (June 18, standalone photo.)

Employers smarten up to mental health

Mental health was one of the hottest topics of 2012, with numerous reports about the toll it’s taking on workers and organizations. A report from the Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Addiction and Mental Health found employers are in one of the best positions to fight depression — which is affecting between 18 per cent to 25 per cent of the North American workforce.

(Jan. 30, 12207.)


Must-see TV

Top 10 videos on hrreporter.com in 2012

1. Hiring for culture fit at lululemon athletica

2. Using metrics to drive business goals

3. What hr needs to know about constructive dismissal

4. Employee communications at starbucks

5. How procter & gamble uses facebook for recruitment

6. The basics of severance packages

7. Total rewards at holt renfrew

8. Appreciative inquiry and changing workplace culture

9. How canadian tire changed its staffing processes

10. Complying with ontario’s pay equity legislation


Best web reading

Top 10 articles on hrreporter.com in 2012

1. CHRPs promoted faster, earn larger salaries: Study (12263) .

2. An insider’s view on landing your first job (13759).

3. Facebook warns employers not to ask for passwords (12641).

4. Average salary increase of 2.9 per cent expected for 2013: Hay Group (13700).

5. Old Age Security unsustainable: Conservatives (12247).

6. Number of women in senior management falls in Canada, rises in Europe: Survey (12565).

7. Steady employment growth expected in 2012: Survey (12030).

8. Execs from Molson, TTC, FedEx, Pizza Pizza to appear on reality TV show (12073).

9. Work-life balance has greatest impact on job satisfaction (12229).

10. Average salary increase expected to be 3.2 per cent for 2013: Mercer (13740).

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