Proposed Ontario law moves HR profession forward: HRPA

Bill 138 mimics legislation governing accountants
By Sarah Dobson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 01/14/2011

HR professionals would be regulated in the same manner as accountants under a new act introduced in Ontario. Bill 138, a private member’s bill introduced before Christmas, would establish a new act governing Ontario’s Human Resource Professionals Association.

“Bill 138 is virtually identical to the Certified Management Accountants Act, 2009,” said Claude Balthazard, director of HR excellence and registrar at the HRPA. “And when I say ‘virtually identical,’ I mean word for word, clause for clause.”

It is a further sign the HR profession has arrived, he said.

“It’s both an achievement, basically recognizing the progress we’ve made so far, and a platform for us to achieve more in the future. But in the eyes of the government, we’re there,” he said. “The government just put us on the same tier, side by side, toe to toe, with the accountants — it’s what we always wanted.”

The 37-page bill — which would apply only to HRPA members — underwent first reading on Nov. 23 and, if passed, would repeal the Human Resources Professionals Association of Ontario Act, 1990. The bill is a private member’s bill introduced by MPP David Zimmer. The government decided to go the private member’s route since HRPA is an “orphaned regulator.” And, because it has all-party support, the likelihood of it going ahead is pretty high, said Scott Allinson, director of government and external relations at HRPA.

This legislation is an important development for the profession, association and people with the designation, he said.

“For employers, they’ve got the assurance, basically, that they’ve hired a professional who is bound by a code of professional conduct and now is enforced by the government in protection of the public.”

It’s the next obvious, logical step for the HRPA to become more of a regulator and standard-bearer as it has clearly established itself as the pre-eminent HR organization in the province, said Hugh Christie, a partner at Gowlings and the Toronto leader of the employment and labour law practice group.

“It makes sense to do what seems to be going on, which is move gradually toward a model where there’s greater regulation of the profession,” said Christie.

And it makes sense to compare HR professionals to those in chartered accounting, said Donna Matys, HR manager at manufacturing company Interfast in Toronto.

“Our roles are significant in a company and we need to follow rules and regulations,” she said.

The proposed act gives members more credibility, said Joan Hughson, manager of HR and administration at IT consulting company Gibraltar in Mississauga, Ont.

“What better way to do it than mirror those other acts,” she said.

But the Toronto chapter of the HRPA (THRPA) sent out an email on Dec. 17 saying Bill 138 will be detrimental to members and the companies they represent. The power given to the HRPA is “extraordinary,” said the THRPA, “without any analysis that the public needs additional protection from those practising in HR.”

The need for tier-one status was also questioned by the chapter. (Editor’s note: The operation of the THRPA was taken over by the HRPA in late December.)

“If indeed the public good needs protections, why have we not been made aware of this?” asked the THRPA.

Some HR professionals don’t yet feel the HR profession is “at the table,” said Balthazard.

“This is the funny part: After 30 years of saying we want to be like accountants, here’s our chance and, all of a sudden, some professionals are going, ‘Oh, but we’re really not,’” he said. “The notion is, ‘We’re not like the accountants and we really should be second class or a tier-two profession.’ Whereas others go, ‘You know what? I don’t see anything that the accountants can do that we can’t.’”

The HRPA recognizes there are items in Bill 138 that are going to raise some eyebrows, said Balthazard. But instead of looking at where the HR profession is today, it’s about looking down the road.

“Obviously, we’re going to have to grow into this. But are we going to turn down this opportunity? I don’t think so,” he said.

The current act designates more power or authority to HRPA than people realize, he said, and “(Bill 138) protects the public by spelling it out more, so there’s less white space to use or abuse.”

People should understand the act was written by the government, not the HRPA, he said.

The province was not interested in a custom act just for HR professionals, he said.

“They were comfortable in giving us the CMA act because it was a known entity,” said Balthazard. “They own it, not us.”

Fear from members is about fear of the unknown or not knowing members were already regulated, said Allinson.

“And they think now it’s basically Big Brother coming in. Well, Big Brother was always there.”

Highlights of the act

In addition to laying out the objectives of the association, makeup of the board, membership regulations, prohibitions and offences, the act contains a section on “practice inspections.”

This states HRPA can inspect the practice of a member or firm if they are considered incapacitated — because of a physical or mental illness, condition or disorder, another infirmity or excessive use of alcohol or drugs.

“The committee may, on its own or on motion, order the member to undergo a medical or psychological examination,” states the bill.

Incapacity is actually a rehabilitative stream and is for the member’s benefit, like accommodation, said Balthazard.

“So instead of saying, ‘You have a medical issue, too bad, we’ll treat it as discipline and we’ll punish you,’ it says, ‘No, we recognize it’s a medical issue and we’ll treat it as such and put together a rehabilitative plan.’”

If professional misconduct is suspected, the act also states an investigator could “enter and inspect the business premises of the individual or firm under investigation, other than any part of the premises used as a dwelling, without the consent of the owner or occupier and without a warrant.” The investigator can also question the individual and his co-workers along with examining or removing relevant documents, such as client files.

HR professionals are strategic partners and a very critical element of any organization so it makes sense to have regulations around professional conduct to protect the public, said Allan Ebedes, president and CEO of the National Quality Institute.

“There has to be a mechanism in place for the association to investigate those complaints and, ultimately, take corrective action,” he said. “Without those teeth, it’s nothing more than a club.”

But the THRPA also expressed concern about the investigatory committee’s powers to look at client files “which potentially involve breaches of rights of privilege and privacy.”

“Where accountants and lawyers may be handling large amounts of client funds, we cannot see how this is required by our profession,” it said.

Regulated professions or associations become extensions of the government so, instead of sending in police, it would entrust that to the HRPA, said Balthazard.

And it’s not as if the HRPA asked the government for extra authority, he said.

“As far as the government is concerned, that’s just part of what a professional regulation is. Essentially, you’re not going to be part of that club if you don’t take on those responsibilities.”

And there should be no concern about employer bias against members.

“(Detractors) portray these extra standards as basically being something employers or clients don’t want. But that is like a 180-degree distortion of the legislation — the legislation is there to protect the public.”

Employers can hire a CA or a bookkeeper but most would prefer the former because she’s better protected, he said.

“It’s not as if people will shun CHRPs because they’re more regulated — that’s what makes them attractive. Regulation is a plus for the public. You have more recourse.”

And with this act, there will now be three lieutenant governors and council appointees on the board so, while the act gives the HRPA a bit more power, there are also checks and balances.

The HRPA is holding an information session on Bill 138 at the HRPA annual conference. It will be held on Feb. 2 at 4:15 pm.

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