2016: the year that was in HR

Canadian HR Reporter breaks down the top news stories from last year
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 01/23/2017

Fighting fire

Already facing a very tough economy, Alberta suffered major setbacks in May when a massive wildfire swarmed the city of Fort McMurray. Tens of thousands of residents and employees were forced to flee, and employers had to quickly put crisis management plans into action.

Amazon tries out 30-hour workweek, with managers included

Once again making waves, Amazon revealed it was experimenting with a 30-hour workweek for a select group of employees in the United States. The program saw technical teams made up entirely of part-time workers who were salaried and received the same benefits as traditional 40-hour workers but were given 75 per cent of full-time pay.

Phoenix woes for federal workers highlight challenges for payroll

Glitches with a new Phoenix payroll system made for pay woes for thousands of federal civil servants who were either paid too much, too little or nothing at all. The challenges served as a warning for employers making payroll-related changes, such as the implementation of a new in-house system, outsourcing payroll, switching providers or moving to a different pay period.

CHRP becomes CPHR – outside of Ontario

The Canadian Council of Human Resources Associations and the eight provincial associations that make up the national body aligned under the name and designation CPHR — Chartered Professionals in Human Resources — or CPHR Canada. The national association’s member bodies include British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Quebec. The change came after Ontario’s HR association decided in 2014 to launch a three-tiered designation, consisting of the Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP), Certified Human Resources Leader (CHRL) and Certified Human Resources Executive (CHRE).

Managing marijuana

With more relaxed rules around medical marijuana, along with federal legislation looking to legalize marijuana in Canada in 2017, employers were wondering if the drug could become more of an issue when it came to pre-employment or on-the-job drug testing. “Once marijuana becomes legal, how do we test for impairment by marijuana in the same way we do for driving under the influence of alcohol? What are the legal limits? We’re heading into new territory,” said Georg Reuter, a partner at Richards Buell Sutton in Vancouver.

Protecting trans people

The federal government put forward legislation meant to protect transgender people in Canada. The bill would add “gender identity” and “gender expression” to the prohibited grounds of discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act, and also amend the criminal code to include gender identity and expression under hate crimes provisions.

Saskatchewan workers’ psychological injuries presumed work-related

Saskatchewan lawmakers ruled that all forms of psychological injuries — for all workers — are now presumed work-related in the province. While the alteration should benefit more people filing workers’ compensation claims, critics expressed concerns about the financial impact on employers, specifically in terms of mischievous claims.

Drug testing at Toronto transit

More than four years into arbitration over its “Fitness for Duty” policy, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) was keen to move forward with random drug and alcohol testing of employees. It had technically been part of the policy since 2011 but funding for the program wasn’t approved. Before the company could move forward with the policy, Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 113 had taken the issue to arbitration.

Syrian refugees welcomed

With tens of thousands of refugees arriving in Canada from Syria, businesses prepared for an influx of potential employees. As many as 3,000 new arrivals were anticipated in Winnipeg alone. While skilled tradespeople and construction workers were in particular demand, the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce worked to connect any and all employers with the resources they needed to create job opportunities.

Revising resumés

Up to 40 per cent of minority applicants engage in “resumé whitening,” according to a University of Toronto study. That means applicants will change the name on their resumés to sound more anglicized or remove experience related to an ethnic group or organization. However, people are much less likely to whiten their applications when they are applying for jobs with employers they consider pro-diversity.

Slap on the wrist for TTC’s social media account

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) found itself in hot water when an arbitrator ruled one of its Twitter accounts (@TTChelps) contributed to the harassment of employees and needed to be changed — but not shut down. The arbitrator said the social media sites could constitute part of the workplace. The case looked at the obligation on employers to take steps to protect or at least address abusive, harassing or intimidating behaviour by the general public against employees.

Ontario considers mandatory work experience for all students

The Ontario government may implement mandatory work experience for students, if recommendations from an expert panel are implemented. Mandatory work-integrated learning initiatives such as co-op programs or internships for all high school, college and university students in the province were among the recommendations of the Highly Skilled Workforce Expert Panel appointed in December 2015.

Starbucks encourages ‘individuality’

With social guidelines in terms of acceptable dress code rapidly changing, Starbucks updated its company regulations to allow for more “individuality” amongst employees. Tattoos, coloured hair and patterned shirts are now welcome among customer-facing employees, with the coffee giant going as far as providing photos and examples of acceptable sartorial choices rather than just a written policy.

Feds looking to provide flex arrangements

The federal government is considering making changes to ensure federally regulated workers have better access to flexible work arrangements. The government held consultations on proposed amendments to the Canada Labour Code, which could affect roughly 12,000 businesses and 820,000 employees. If approved, the code would allow the workers to formally request flexible work arrangements from their employers.

Employers underestimating prevalence, impact of chronic diseases: Survey

Plan sponsors may be underestimating the impact of chronic disease in the workplace, and how the workplace can negatively affect employees’ ability to manage their conditions, according to a survey by Sanofi Canada. Fifty-nine per cent of employees have at least one chronic condition such as high blood pressure, diabetes or depression, but employers think just 32 per cent of employees do, leading to challenges.

Fatalities lead to jail time

An Ontario judge sentenced a project manager to three-and-a-half years in prison after a deadly scaffolding collapse in Toronto on Christmas Eve in 2009. Vadim Kazenelson was found guilty of four counts of criminal negligence causing death and one count of criminal negligence causing bodily harm in the “precedent-setting” decision.

Suncor’s drug and alcohol policy given another chance

Random drug and alcohol testing at Suncor was given a second chance by an Alberta court after an arbitration board previously struck it down. Suncor introduced pre-employment drug and alcohol testing for all new employees in 1999 to help ensure safety and productivity wouldn’t be hindered by intoxicated workers, and then moved to random drug and alcohol testing for all employees in safety-sensitive positions in 2012. The union grieved the decision and won — initially.

Cellphones not allowed

An Ontario greenhouse owner banned workers from using cellphones at work, saying they were distracting and led to lower productivity and negative attitudes. But there are legal, safety and communication considerations to such a move, said experts.

The end of DB pension plans?

A deal struck between General Motors (GM) and Unifor in Ontario not only meant changes for 3,860 workers but served as further confirmation defined benefit (DB) pension plans are a dying breed. The agreement secured a $554-million investment at three facilities, while converting 700 precarious jobs and offering wage improvements. It also saw the union giving up DB pension plans for new hires.

The return of Quebec

Quebec’s provincial HR association rejoined the Canadian Council of Human Resources Associations (CCHRA). Having relinquished its membership in 2010, the Ordre des conseillers en ressources humaines agréés du Québec (CRHA) decided to come back as an associate member, meaning it would not pay membership fees and it did not have voting rights. The CCHRA has since become
CPHR Canada.

Knowing when to draw the line

A beer can incident at a wild-card baseball game in Toronto — and subsequent loss of employment for Postmedia’s Ken Pagan — once again raised questions around employer brands and employees’ after-hours behaviour. Organizations need to have both social media policies and guidelines for expectations of conduct in place, said experts.

Sky-high compensation

Six in 10 employees (59 per cent) said they were demotivated by high executive pay in their workplace, according to a survey by the U.K.-based Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). And about 70 per cent felt chief executive pay was too high. CEOs in the U.K. earn 183 times as much as the average employee, up from 47 times as much in 1998.

CEOs turfed too soon

CEOs of publicly traded companies turn over too quickly, putting firms at a long-term disadvantage, according to a study from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. “We see many public companies nowadays that worry about meeting short-term earnings targets, like quarterly earnings targets. So CEOs and top management are under constant pressure to make those targets — otherwise, stock prices will go down and they will be targeted by activist shareholders or other competitors, and their own pay (may be) directly linked to stock prices,” said Kai Li, finance professor at the university and co-author of the study.

Two-fifths of workforce at ‘high risk’ of being affected by automation: Report

Forty-two per cent of the Canadian labour force is at high risk of being affected by automation in the future. That’s because the recent rise of artificial intelligence and advanced robotics means automation is entering the realm of cognitive, non-routine tasks and occupations, such as driving and conducting job interviews, according to a report from Ryerson University in Toronto. Most high-risk occupations are in office support and general administration or lower-skilled technical occupations.

Walmart wage hike could alter retail arena

A “trendsetting” move by one of the world’s largest retail chains could set into motion a major shift in the way companies compensate employees, according to experts. In 2015, Walmart increased hourly wages for its 1.5 million employees in the United States to combat a drop in profits, as well as poor customer survey results. And recent analysis suggests the move made sense.

Heineken uses interactive video to attract jobseekers

Breaking away from the traditional, Heineken uncorked a different kind of recruitment campaign when the Dutch brewing company launched an interactive website titled “Go Places” that saw 600 global staffers participating. Heineken’s goal? Show off its global dominance while attracting future star employees to continue to break fresh ground, said the company.

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