'Penalties can range from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars; sometimes jail time'
One of the biggest headaches for small business owners, is keeping track when it comes to employment standards.
A big part of the trouble comes just in the nature of employment law that is always changing.
“If you’re a small business, it’s hard to comply, in part because the legal text is so complex and it changes from time to time and so the small business owner takes it upon themselves to try to learn it and stay up with it. It’s hard when you’re just a small shop before you ask a lawyer or accountant or HR professional, and that’s costly, and it’s not so easy to decide what to do,” says Raj Singh, professor of cognitive science at Carleton University in Ottawa.
In an effort to help business leaders become compliant when it comes to how much to pay a departing employee, Singh worked with PaymentEvolution, a payroll and payments service in Toronto to develop a way to help business owners manage the immense task.
The impetus came about from a 2015 Changing Workplaces Review done by the Ontario Liberal government “just how to update employment standards in light of the current state of the economy, and I remember in that report, there was a note about how hard it is for companies, small businesses in particular, to keep up,” says Singh.
The organization wanted to know how big of a problem this might be for companies.
“We ourselves reached out to the Ministry of Labour at some point, and did an access-to-information request to get data about the complaints and how many things go to challenge, and it turns out there’s tens of thousands of complaints every year,” he says.
“The penalties can range from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars; sometimes jail time: it’s a serious game.”
By deploying the offboarding assistant, Singh turned to AI to help bridge the gap for small business owners.
“If we could, quote unquote, teach a machine the laws, the employment standards, and we already tracked a bunch of the data that’s relevant to compliance, can we then in the ideal case, marry the data we have and feed it to a machine that knows how to reason with the law, and it understands the law, quote, unquote, and then you basically just press a couple of buttons and you’re done.”
A growing number of employees are saying no the standard exit interviews, according to a recent survey.
Not enough pay major concern
Most of the complaints made by employees to the Ministry of Labour around underpayments, according to Singh.
“You weren’t paid enough upon termination; you weren’t paid enough for holiday; you weren’t paid enough for vacation. Another one is schedules: you didn’t get enough holiday time. Some things around scheduling are another major one.”
As well, even small administrative errors can be pounced upon by compliance officers at the ministry.
“Sometimes if you’re audited by the ministry, in a surprise audit, you can get fined for record keeping,” he says.
The machine learning technology could also help solve some future problems for HR professionals, according to Singh.
“We also are intending it to be compliant with company policies, for example. So not just employment standards, but what about your own company policy? Every company policy will be above and beyond whatever the Employment Standards dictates because that’s the minimum standard. Once we have the solution, we hope to extend it all across the HR space in principle, wo workplace health and safety for example; Pay Equity Act, anywhere, there’s legislation where you need to know, what are the rules?”