Age discrimination, whistleblowing cases expected to dominate employment law scene

Canadian lawyers expect busy year ahead as companies continue workforce reductions: survey

Continued workforce reductions by Canadian companies will bring a corresponding flood of wrongful practice allegations, including claims of age discrimination and whistleblower retaliation, in 2003 according to a survey by the Employment Law Alliance (ELA).

Canadian-based members of the ELA ranked their top six hot spots as:

•family and medical leave requests;

•disability discrimination claims;

•disputes over disability accommodations;

•wrongful termination litigation;

•internal investigations of alleged employee misconduct; and

•threats of violence.

“There’s no question that 2003 is going to be another very busy year for employment lawyers in Canada, which is not necessarily good news for employers or employees,” said Stephen Hirschfeld, CEO and founder of ELA. “What is most troubling, based on the survey results, is that even though the reductions in (the workforce) appear inevitable, employers are planning to do relatively little in the way of training and education to minimize their legal and financial exposure.”

But there are some hopeful signs in the forecast, as 40 per cent of lawyers think employers will spend more time addressing ethics issues at the board and executive levels. Increased workplace compliance is expected to produce fewer claims involving safety and health disputes, sexual harassment claims and disputes over disability accommodation.

How 2002 fared

Looking back over 2002, 45 per cent of the lawyers polled said there was a modest increase in workplace-related litigation compared to 2001.

One of the biggest reasons for that increase, Hirschfeld said, is unemployed workers were having a harder time finding work after their termination.

“When times get tough, for both troubled companies and terminated workers, litigation often becomes an attractive option to generate revenue,” he said.

The ELA 2003 Employment Law Forecast surveyed dozens of Canadian labour and employment law attorneys as well as similar attorneys in law firms in the United States, Mexico, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. It was conducted by the opinion research firm of Reed, Haldy, McIntosh & Associates.

The ELA is a global practice network with firms in every province in Canada and commercial centres around the world.

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