2010 – The year in HR

A look back at the top HR news stories of 2010
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 01/17/2011

Here’s a brief look, by topic area, at news that made headlines in the HR world last year. All subscribers to Canadian HR Reporter have unlimited access to the archive.

Benefits

Sick banks became an increasingly controversial benefit, as seen during a nearly six-week-long strike by City of Toronto workers in the summer of 2009. Union members were entitled to 18 sick days per year and able to cash out their unused days to a maximum of six months’ salary at retirement. (Feb. 8, 7538.)

Maternity leave top-ups help retention, found a Statistics Canada study that showed 96 per cent of women in Canada who took maternity leave in 2008 and received paid benefits and top-up payments returned to their employers, compared to 46 per cent of mothers who had neither. (March 22, 7668.)

Nine out of 10 companies offer service awards and 58.8 per cent allow employees to choose their prizes, according to a survey by Canadian HR Reporter. The most popular awards were jewelry (53.3 per cent), engraveables (49 per cent), decorations (41.6 per cent), pins (37.7 per cent) and gift certificates (37 per cent) though, when given the choice, employees also like sports gear and technology. (April 5, 7691.)

The Ontario government’s move to slash generic drug prices by at least 50 per cent over three years should result in significant cost savings to employers with drug plans. (May 3, 7813.)

The Canada Revenue Agency ruled City of Toronto councillors must return free transit, zoo and golf passes or pay back taxes for two years. (May 31, 7910.)

Paid vacation is one of the most valued employee perks. While many firms have earned kudos for giving employees three weeks right off the bat, some firms have raised the ante by offering unlimited paid vacation to workers. (Nov. 15, 8469.)

Compensation

Cautious optimism” was the catchphrase for 2010 when it came to base salary forecasts, ranging from 2.5 per cent to 2.6 per cent. But fewer (18 per cent) organizations predicted zero-per-cent budget increases compared to 2009 (25 per cent). (Jan. 11, 7507.)

The recession has been a wake-up call for companies when it comes to rewarding employees as organizations are forced to seriously consider who and what they are paying for, according to a study from the Hay Group. (April 5, 7703.)

All of Canada’s financial institutions held “say on pay” votes — advisory votes on executive compensation — and the responses were largely positive at banks such as Laurentian Bank (99.2 per cent), CIBC (92.9 per cent) and RBC (91.1 per cent). (April 19, 7749.)

Hospital CEO compensation increased 25 per cent in the past five years in Ontario. To curb that increase and create accountability between health-care executives and the quality of care delivered in hospitals, a new bill aligned executives’ compensation with hospital performance. (May 17, 7858.)

Target-based bonuses encourage employees to lie about their performance, according to a study that said organizations should provide fair base salary and conduct audits to decrease the likelihood of fraud. (June 14, 7970.)

Emerging from the dark clouds of the Great Recession, firms appeared to be returning to a “cautious normal” when it came to salary increases for 2011, with a prediction of a 2.9-per-cent average increase across the country. (Sept. 20, 8240.)

Pay equity continued to make headlines for the wrong reasons. And even employers that initially complied with legislation could fall out of compliance, said Carolyn Kay, a partner at Hicks Morley in Toronto. (Sept. 20, 8228.)

Corporate social responsibility

Well-oiled programs saw employers such as Toyota Canada and Sears Canada quickly helping out when disasters struck worldwide, such as the earthquake in Haiti on Jan. 12. (Feb. 8, 7543.)

There is a strong correlation between employee engagement and employee views of their employers’ record on corporate social responsibility, according to research by Aon Hewitt and Canadian Business for Social Responsibility. (Feb. 22, 7586.)

CHRP

People with the Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP) designation are more likely to progress faster in their careers and attain higher-paying positions than those without, according to surveys by Payscale and the Human Resources Professionals Association. (April 5, 7704.)

The recertification log for the CHRP designation was updated to reflect the importance of experience, learning and leadership to the profession. (July 12, 8042.)

As the January 2011 deadline for the CHRP degree requirement approached, the number of people writing the designation’s National Knowledge Exam increased by 50 per cent from 2009 to 2010 while the pass rates dropped by 30 per cent. (Aug. 9, 8115.)

Diversity

People with intellectual disabilities are nearly three times more likely to be out of work than the general population because of outdated employer stereotypes and a welfare system that penalizes people with intellectual disabilities, according to the Canadian Association for Community Living. (Jan. 25, 7506.)

The challenge of managing several cultures and languages in workforces was highlighted during lengthy contract negotiations for 2,300 employees at Maple Leaf Foods’ hog processing plant in Brandon, Man. (Feb. 22, article 7583.)

Employment law

Employers should find a reasonable connection to the job in question when it comes to credit checks, said Alberta’s Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner after it investigated a complaint by a job candidate applying to Mark’s Work Wearhouse. (March 22, 7596.)

An Ontario court certified a class-action lawsuit against Ford that alleged the automaker reneged on job offers at its plant in Oakville, Ont. The suit claimed Ford offered jobs to hundreds of individuals in July 2008 but later advised the shift would not be implemented. (March 8, 7620.)

Several cases examined a new ground for discrimination: family status. An employer can’t be expected to establish terms of work that don’t conflict with every characteristic of family status, but some instances, such as custody and unique child-care arrangements, require employers to investigate accommodations. (May 17, 7853 and Sept. 6, 8200 and 8185.)

One overtime class-action lawsuit against a bank was certified while another wasn’t. Inability to approve overtime after it was worked and the lack of a corporate-wide procedure to record overtime were the main reasons the case against Scotiabank was certified. (June 14, 7964.)

Employers breathed a collective sigh of relief when the Alberta Court of Appeal reduced a $2.2-million damage award to an investment adviser at Merrill Lynch who was fired without cause. The appeal court upheld $600,000 for reasonable notice, but said the additional $1.6 million — awarded for the manner of dismissal — wasn’t warranted. The case underscored the right of employers to dismiss an employee at any time, as long as adequate notice is provided. (Sept. 20, 8234.)

Prince Edward Island overhauled its employment standards legislation for the first time in 15 years, with significant changes to paid vacation, bereavement leave, sick pay and the banking of overtime. (Oct. 18, 8327.)

Too many workers still don’t understand what’s inappropriate when it comes to social media, as seen with the firing of two workers at a Mazda dealership in British Columbia. The dismissal was upheld by a labour board after the workers took aim at management and the dealership on Facebook. (Nov. 29, 8574.)

Health and safety

Following the Christmas Eve 2009 death of four construction workers in Toronto, the Ontario Ministry of Labour announced it would hold its first thorough review since the province’s health and safety act came into force 30 years ago. (April 19, 7748.)

Organizations with wellness programs should see cost reductions around absenteeism and health-care expenses, along with increases in productivity, said a study by the Conference Board of Canada. And making wellness central to business strategy also increases organizational effectiveness through increased innovation, engagement, productivity and decreased turnover, found a Right Management study (April 19, article 7742.)

Frustrated by the British Columbia Crown counsels’ refusal to prosecute Weyerhaeuser Canada for the death of a sawmill worker, the Steelworkers’ union launched a private prosecution under the Bill C-45 amendments to the Criminal Code that allow companies and executives to be held criminally responsible for a worker’s death. (May 17, 7859.)

As new laws came into force requiring employers to protect employees from harassment and violence, a study found workplace bullying is harder on victims than gender- or race-based harassment. (Aug. 9, 8112.)

Shortly before Ontario’s anti-workplace violence and harassment law (Bill 168) came into effect, incidents of hazing by City of Mississauga employees came to light. The public backlash prompted the city to suspend the two supervisors involved, without pay. (July 12, 8044 and 8027.)

One lawyer believes Bill 168 is unnecessary as other laws already protect Ontario workers from harassment and violence. (May 3, 7793.)

Evidence is mounting linking shift work to cancer, cardiovascular disease, workplace injuries and pregnancy complications. But more research is needed to understand how shift work affects health and how employers can mitigate the effects. (May 17, 7860.)

One solution might be for night-shift workers to wear glasses that block the light wavelengths associated with the suppression of melatonin, a hormone secreted at night that maintains the body’s circadian rhythm. (Sept. 6, 8202.)

The debate over the safety of WiFi networks raged, with parents voicing concerns about their children being exposed at schools. While Health Canada says WiFi technology is safe, critics raised concerns about the proliferation of wireless technology and its long-term health effects. (Oct. 4, 8288.)

Criminal charges were laid in the death of four workers at a highrise construction site in Toronto. The charges were labeled as the “most significant” to be levied in Ontario since Bill C-45, the federal law that amended the criminal code, was passed in 2004. (Nov. 1, 8383.)

Human rights

Women diagnosed with breast cancer often face financial hardship and job loss, according to a study. One woman who was fired after her diagnosis was awarded $22,000 by the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. (Aug. 9, 8116.)

Human rights complaints have increased and employers need to be more mindful of human rights issues as these complaints could be more costly than wrongful dismissal cases. (July 13, 8043.)

Immigration

Foreign-trained HR professionals face significant barriers, with a 46-per-cent gap between IEPs intending to work in HR and the reality of finding a job in the profession, according to a study by the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA). Barriers include the cost of obtaining HR certification, lack of recognition of original qualifications and lack of empathy from the HRPA. (Feb. 22, 7591.)

Internationally educated HR professionals are an asset to Canadian companies because they provide a new perspective that gives companies a competitive edge. But many have trouble adjusting to the Canadian work culture. (July 12, 8038.)

Labour relations

Faced with large deficits coming out of the recession, several provincial governments tried to implement wage freezes on public sector workers. But unions have fought back. (June 14, 7967.)

Ontario’s plan to contain costs with two-year wage freezes in the public sector hit a roadblock, as arbitrators ignored the province’s pleas and granted wage increases to unionized workers. (Nov. 1, 8380.)

Pay equity

An Alberta woman was awarded $650,000 in an epic pay equity battle with a former employer that lasted for nearly two decades. (Oct. 4, 8284.)

What accounts for the ongoing (and stalled) gender wage gap? One possible explanation is the “motherhood gap,” according to a report. It found that employers see frequent entries and exits in the labour force as a sign of detachment and lack of commitment. (Nov. 15, 8468.)

Pensions

Canada’s retirement crisis is being overblown, according to Malcolm Hamilton, a worldwide partner and consulting actuary in Mercer’s retirement, risk and finance business, as Canada has one of the best systems in the world and is in an enviable position, with virtually no poverty among senior citizens. (Feb. 8, 7542.)

Manitoba introduced its most significant pension reforms in 35 years. Changes will give more control to employees through pension committees and allow for phased retirement and immediate full vesting. (May 3, 7809.)

Ontario tackled pension reform, shoring up its pension benefits guarantee fund through higher premiums, allowing employers to use irrevocable letters of credit to fund up to 15 per cent of a plan’s solvency liabilities and clarifying rules around surpluses. (Sept. 20, 8241.)

The Supreme Court of Canada effectively endorsed the “two hats” pension doctrine — that an employer may, or may not, have fiduciary obligations at different times — in a ruling involving the Hudson’s Bay Company. (Nov. 15, 8465.)

Recruitment

The recession may have eased labour shortages in the short term but Canada’s aging population and an improperly trained workforce could result in Ontario having nearly two million unfilled skilled jobs and 700,000 unemployable workers by 2031, according to a report by Miner & Miner Management Consultants. (March 8, article 7625.)

Changes implemented by the RCMP made it harder for companies to determine if a potential hire has a criminal record. (May 3, 7814.)

Recruitment experts said employers need to maintain a presence on university and college campuses, even during tough economic times, and expand beyond the traditional job fairs if they want to be able to recruit the best talent once they start hiring again. (May 3, 7812.)

Jobseekers are attracted to flexible work options, with these perks coming in second to money as a main attractor, according to a study. (May 31, 7965.)

In another sign of the cooling labour market, Alberta decided to shelve two immigration programs — the family stream (for family members of permanent residents) and the United States visa stream. (Sept. 20, 8235.)

Aboriginals are an untapped labour source that employers should pursue, but they aren’t a panacea to the expected shortage of workers. A Conference Board of Canada report highlighted how critical immigration will be in coming years. (Oct. 4, 8289.)

The promulgation of social media continued in 2010, and recruiters were on the cutting edge. Retailers Best Buy and Future Shop used social media, including Twitter and Facebook, to help recruit thousands of temporary workers for the holiday rush. (Nov. 1, 8382.)

Relocation

Spousal career issues have become the leading cause both of employees refusing international assignments and failed assignments, yet only 18 per cent of spouses surveyed had received employment-related assistance from their partner’s employer. (Sept. 20, 8224.)

Strategic HR

Leaders need to move beyond supervising and managing employees to take on the mantle of coaching employees, according to Peter Jensen, CEO of Performance Coaching and the sports psychology trainer for Canada’s Olympic women’s hockey team. (Jan. 25, article 7468.)

Analytical thinking is the dominant way of thinking in organizations, but without innovation or “abductive thinking,” industry sectors will stagnate, according to Roger Martin, dean of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. (Feb. 22, 7582.)

Organizations need to embrace change and, in order to thrive, must build leadership behaviours at all levels to adapt quickly, said Jim Clemmer, a practical leadership expert and author. (March 22, 7710.)

Employers need to invest more organizational resources — such as job design, feedback, coaching — in creating a company culture that fosters positivity, said Jamie Gruman, assistant professor of organizational behaviour at the University of Guelph. (April 19, 7741.)

To get the most out of recognition programs, employers should focus on everyday recognition — a simple “thank you” — rather than formal programs, said Roy Saunderson, president of Recognition Management Institute. (May 17, 7852.)

Organizational psychologist Tom Tavares offered his take on management. His conclusion: It’s broken, but all hope is not lost as long as organizations learn to recognize the pattern of behaviour that leads to poor performance. (June 14, 7959.)

The G20 Summit was held in Toronto, affecting businesses and hospitals in the downtown core, and employers developed contingency plans to ensure employees and customers would be safe during the meetings. (June 14, 7971.)

Jim Peters, global leader of succession planning at Korn/Ferry, spoke about “learning agility” — a research-based measure of potential. (Aug. 9, 8107.)

The importance of innovation was related by Shannon Deegan, director of people operations, central staffing and business development at Google. (Sept. 20, 8232.)

Metrics was one of the hottest buzzwords in HR and we took a look at the 10 most important metrics employers should be tracking. (Sept. 20, 8230.)

John Boudreau, author and academic at the University of Southern California, shared his thoughts about why HR needs to be retooled and the biggest challenge facing the profession. (Oct. 4, 8283.)

The new Senior Human Resources Professional (SHRP) designation is honouring the best of the best in HR. We profiled five recipients, discussing their careers and what the designation means to them. (Nov. 15, 8460.)

The notion that workplace culture is a touchy-feely HR issue was dispelled by a report that showed organizations on a most admired culture list outperformed the TSX 60 by an average of 600 per cent. (Dec. 13, 8672.)

Wellness

A woman’s posts to her Facebook page cost her her long-term disability benefits when an insurance company deemed her online photos to be proof the woman no longer had depression. But the expectation mental illness is visible is a misperception that can be detrimental to workplace well-being, according to a mental health expert. (Jan. 11, article 7463.)

Mental health issues are more powerful drivers of wellness strategies than those related to physical health, according to a survey by Buck Consultants. Forty-five per cent of companies in Canada identified stress as the top health risk driving wellness strategies, followed by work-life balance (39 per cent) and depression (31 per cent). (Feb. 22, 7584.)

Workers who have had a disability leave related to a mental illness are seven times more likely to have another disability episode related to that illness, found a study by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. And employees who have taken anti-depressants suffer significant productivity losses such as absenteeism, disability leave and presenteeism, found another study. (March 22, article 7602.)

The side effects of the Great Recession on employees included stress, low morale and heavier workloads, according to surveys, leading to speculation there could be a spike in mental health claims similar to that seen in the recession in the early 1990s. (Oct. 4, 8290.)

New laws, less tolerance among judges and arbitrators for poor behaviour and skyrocketing damage awards — increasing 700 per cent over the last five years — have combined to create a “perfect legal storm” on the psychological safety front. (Nov. 1, 8381.)

We revealed the results of our exclusive survey on workplace nutrition. It found that while employers firmly believed what workers ate had an impact on productivity, many were hesitant to get involved. (Dec. 13, 8673.)

Work-life balance

The perks associated with higher status jobs can actually make it harder for people to achieve good work-life balance, according to a University of Toronto study that identified certain resources and demands — such as higher level of job authority, skill, decision-making latitude and earnings, interpersonal conflict, pressure and long hours — that see work interfering with home and social activities. (Feb. 8, 7541.)


Tough questions

Tackling the toughest questions facing HR

In 2010, Canadian HR Reporter introduced a new feature – Toughest HR Question, where experts field questions from readers. Here’s a look at some of the questions we tackled throughout the year.

Ontario’s disability act: How aware are employers of their obligations under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA)? (May 17, 7845.)

HR stereotypes: How do you move beyond the typical HR stereotype? (May 31, 7891.)

Constructive dismissal: What changes are likely to amount to constructive dismissal? As an employer, how can we avoid allegations of constructive dismissal? (June 14, 7953.)

Health and safety inspectors: What should an employer do when a health and safety inspector comes calling? (July 12, 8028.)

Discrimination: How can you overcome discrimination against people who speak English with a foreign accent? (Aug. 9, 8096.)

Hours of work: My friend works 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and gets one half-hour break. Is this right? (Sept. 6, 8184.)

Class-action lawsuits: How do these lawsuits work and what can employers do to protect themselves from unpaid overtime lawsuits? (Sept. 20, 8222.)

Employee referrals: What are the problems associated with employee referrals and how can they be overcome? (Oct. 4, 8271.)

Delivering bad news: What’s the best way to deliver negative feedback to senior management? (Oct. 18, 8313.)

Unpaid help: Do employment standards apply to a student on an unpaid internship or a volunteer? (Nov. 1, 8370.)

Immigration: How can organizations make it easier for immigrant workers to integrate? (Nov. 15, 8452.)

Overtime: When do you have to have employees sign off for overtime hours? (Nov. 29, 8557.)

Discipline: What should an employer do with a worker who is underperforming but is planning to retire soon? (Dec. 13, 8647.)


Must-see TV

Most popular HR videos in 2010

Canadian HR Reporter TV drew thousands of viewers throughout 2010. Here’s a look at our 10 most popular videos:

1. Corporate culture at WestJet airlines, featuring Ferio Pugliese, executive ­vice-president of people.

2. Training and development ROI, featuring Lynn Johnston, president of the Canadian Society for Training and Development.

3. Employee engagement and social media at Best Buy, featuring Jennifer Rock, ­director of employee communications at Best Buy.

4. ‘Design thinking’ and innovation, featuring Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.

5. Human Resources Summit Awards 2010, featuring acceptance speeches of the ­winners.

6. Coaching in the workplace, featuring Peter Jensen, a coach who has worked with some of Canada’s top Olympic athletes.

7. Building solid, collaborative connections with unions, featuring Gayle Fisher, chief human resources officer at the Ontario Securities Commission.

8. Diversity’s competitive advantage, featuring Ratna Omidvar, chair of the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council.

9. Legal issues senior management may encounter, featuring Natalie MacDonald, a partner at Grosman, Grosman and Gale in Toronto.

10. Succession planning: Preparing the next generation of leaders, featuring Monica Belcourt, director of the School of Human Resources Management at York ­University in Toronto.

To view the top 10 videos for 2010, see article #8660.

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