2014: The year that was in HR (Year in Review)

HR associations made major changes, sexual harassment scandals, workplace violence made headlines

Ghomeshi off the air
Jian Ghomeshi took over headlines in October and November following allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault. The popular CBC radio host filed a $55-million lawsuit against the broadcaster after he was fired, a lawsuit he later dropped. Experts pointed out that he was a unionized employee, governed by a collective agreement, and therefore his remedy was to be found via arbitration. The case shined a very bright light on sexual harassment and the treatment of women in the workplace —  and continues to do so.

Ottawa attacked, employers locked down
On Oct. 22, shots rang out in the nation’s capital. A ceremonial soldier was killed at the National War Memorial before the gunman stormed the halls of parliament, brought down in a hail of gunfire by Sergeant at Arms Kevin Vickers. In the hours following the tragedy, many employers in Ottawa went into lockdown — prompting many firms to review their procedures to make sure they were up to date.

Foreign worker overhaul
The issue of temporary foreign workers dominated headlines in 2014, beginning with the very first issue in January which featured a story on a move by Ontario to beef up protections in employment standards and health and safety legislation.
That was followed by major changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP): the Labour Market Impact Assessment fee increased dramatically,  from $275 to $1,000; the percentage of foreign workers was capped at 10 per cent for firms with at least 10 employees; and applications in areas with high unemployment (six per cent or higher) were banned.

HR association musical chairs
Ontario’s Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) announced that, effective June 30, it was pulling out of the Canadian Council of Human Resource Associations (CCHRA). The move saved HRPA, and cost CCHRA, $500,000 a year. That meant Canada’s two most populous provinces — Ontario and Quebec, which hasn’t been a member of CCHRA for some time — are no longer at the CCHRA table.

HR designation musical chairs
The CCHRA unveiled new competencies for the Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP) designation, outlining 44 discipline-specific professional competencies. It was based on the results of an evidence-based process undertaken in a professional practice analysis back in 2013.

But that news was soon overshadowed by a bombshell — Ontario’s HRPA announced it was launching a three-level designation. The CHRP was made a junior-level designation and a mid-level Certified Human Resources Leader (CHRL)  and senior-level Certified Human Resources Executive (CHRE) were launched. 

HRPA CEO Bill Greenhalgh called the move a “game-changer” meant to reflect and promote the evolution of the profession. The move raised questions about the CHRP designation, its portability and whether or not other associations might adopt the new designations. 

Canada wasn’t the only country experiencing waves in the HR designation pool. In the United States, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) split from the HR Certification Institute (HRCI) to launch its own designations — SHRM-CP and CHRM-SCP. HRCI stayed in the game, continuing to offer the existing PHR, SPHR and GPHR designations, among others.

Time to split up HR?
An op-ed piece in the Harvard Business Review made waves in calling for HR to be split into two departments. Ram Charan, a Dallas-based business advisor and author, said many CEOs were simply disappointed with HR people. He called for eliminating the CHRO position and separating HR into administration (reporting to the CFO) and strategy (reporting to the CEO). “The problem with HR is real,” he wrote. “One way or another, it will have to gain the business acumen needed to help organizations perform at their best.”

Hack attack
The cyber attack against Sony, allegedly related to the launch of the fictional comedy The Interview which features the assassination of North Korea President Kim Jong-Un, showed the vulnerability of communications and intellectual property in a digital age. The release of emails from executives was embarrassing and cringeworthy, and served as a reminder of the old adage that applies to social media and email alike: “Don’t say anything you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the New York Times.”

Ontario goes it alone on pensions
When the provinces and Ottawa couldn’t reach a deal to expand the Canada Pension Plan (CPP), Ontario announced it was going it alone — creating a supplementary pension plan. And it wasn’t bluffing. In December, the province unveiled a consultation paper inviting feedback on key details and designs of the plan. The plan isn’t yet signed, sealed and delivered — but it’s close, and the prime minister has made it clear Ottawa has no appetite for a larger CPP.

BBC’s head of HR confesses
Lucy Adams, former head of HR at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), called her emails to staff “crap” after she left the job. “They seemed pompous and sterile, lacking any humanity or humility. I had adopted the royal executive ‘we’ and, in an effort to be accurate, I had ‘lawyered out’ any personality.”

AODA compliance
Any organization with employees in Ontario had AODA on the brain in 2014 — that’s the acronym describing the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. AODA’s customer service standard took effect in 2012, but many organizations still weren’t fully compliant by 2014. The legislation will continue to be on the minds of employers, with building code changes beginning Jan. 1, 2015, that apply to new construction and major renovations. The goal of the legislation is to make the province completely accessible by 2025.

Quebec’s pay equity law struck down
A Quebec judge declared portions of the province’s pay equity legislation to be invalid, giving the government up to one year to fix the legislation. The court had a problem with sections of the law regarding the lack of retroactivity to compensation changes that could have significant impact on wages and retirement benefits.

Alberta versus Canada
In April, we ran the headline “A tale of 2 labour markets.” There was Alberta, and there was everyone else — with a booming economy, labour shortages and low unemployment, recruitment was nearly impossible in Wild Rose country. But falling oil prices may mean the party is coming to an end. Bank of Montreal chief economist Doug Porter said Alberta’s growth rate will be cut in half for 2015, meaning Ontario and British Columbia will duke it out in a “race of the turtles” for the title of fastest-growing economy.

Ebola concerns
Ebola made headlines around the world following an outbreak in West Africa, leading some Canadian employers and employees to adopt or call for changes. For example, Air Canada flight attendants were given the green light to wear gloves and Alberta nurses raised concerns about proper training and preparation for an outbreak.

Don’t pee in the cup
Random drug and alcohol testing among unionized employees at Suncor was struck down by an arbitrator. In 2012, the company announced it would randomly test employees in safety-sensitive positions — which described about 82 per cent of its unionized workers in the oilsands operations. Between 2003 and 2012, 216 unionized employees had tested positive. The company also found devices used to defeat drug tests and pointed to the deaths of three contract workers. But the arbitration board said there was simply not enough evidence of a rampant drug and alcohol problem to justify testing of the workers.

Don’t be like Ray
Domestic violence found a new face in 2014 thanks to former NFL running back Ray Rice (above), who knocked his wife unconscious with a punch in an elevator at a hotel in Atlantic City, N.J. The high-profile incident was  showed the challenges employers face when dealing with the ramifications of domestic violence in the workplace.

Doctors, HR clash over sick notes
The president of the Ontario Medical Association made waves in February when he called on employers to stop asking workers for sick notes and to encourage staff to stay home when they’re sick. Scott Wooder said he sees about two patients every day who are there for the sole purpose of getting a doctor’s note. “That’s two extra patients crowding my waiting room, possibly spreading the flu to pregnant women and cancer patients. And for what? In 28 years, I’ve rarely denied anyone a sick note.” But employers didn’t jump on his bandwagon — the Toronto Transit Commission, for one, implemented a policy requiring a note within 72 hours for even just one sick day. As a result of the change, absenteeism rates slipped from 8.5 per cent to 7.5 per cent. 

How not to run an HR department
Toronto Community Housing provided a perfect blueprint for how not to run your human resources department. A scathing report from the city’s ombudsman found executives had been promoted with little process or screening; promotions and raises were handed out with no competition or process; fundamental changes were introduced into employment contracts without approvals or notice; and senior executives were in conflict of interest when hiring.  

Internships under fire
An exclusive Canadian HR Reporter/Human Resources Professionals Association survey found nearly two-thirds of HR professionals in Ontario feel unpaid internships should be illegal, unless they are part of a school curriculum. Firms across the country scrapped unpaid internships as stories in the media spread about employers allegedly taking advantage of free labour from recent grads desperate for experience.

Mind the benefits gap
Spending on private health insurance in Canada has more than doubled since 1991, and a recent analysis in the Canadian Medical Association Journal questioned how much bang employers and individuals are getting for their buck. The gap between premiums paid in and benefits paid out rose to $6.8 billion in 2011, a number that has increased threefold over the past 20 years.

Background checks
British Columbia’s privacy commissioner called for tougher rules for pre-employment criminal background checks. The commissioner cited numerous stories, including a woman who had a suicide attempt disclosed — which led to an uncomfortable conversation with her prospective employer. Lawyers reminded employers they couldn’t discriminate for things like mental disabilities, and others called for a prohibition against the disclosure of mental health information.

B.C. ditches B.C.
The British Columbia Human Resources Management Association (BC HRMA) became more efficient with its name in 2014, dropping the B.C. and just becoming HRMA. Good people practices aren’t bound by provincial or even national boundaries, said Christian Codrington, senior manager, professional practice at HRMA in Vancouver, about the change. It also rolled out a new logo.

Pregnant workers, unsafe work
The Supreme Court of Canada reinforced the right of pregnant workers to refuse unsafe work. The ruling involved a supply teacher in Quebec who was told by a doctor her classroom was an unsafe working environment because she was susceptible to a number of harmful viruses children commonly carry. The court agreed, saying the woman was entitled to legislated protections. While the law in Quebec is slightly different than the rest of Canada, it still serves as a reminder for employers to make every reasonable attempt to accommodate pregnant employees. 

No musical chairs for jobs
Contrary to popular belief, employees aren’t on the move. A CIBC World Markets report found there is a 60 per cent chance a worker will stay on the job after completing his first year, a number that rises to 95 per cent for workers with five years’ tenure or more.

Mars needs recruits
In February, we examined the ultimate recruitment challenge — finding the right people to send to Mars on a one-way trip. After all, you can’t really fire the person once she’s past the moon. While the hiring criteria had yet to be finalized, experts agreed personality was going to trump pretty much everything else.

Workplace violence
Edmonton stabbings: In February, a 29-year-old worker allegedly went on a stabbing rampage at a Loblaw warehouse in Edmonton, killing two colleagues and injuring four others.

Vancouver Island shootings: A 47-year-old former employee at Western Forest Products in Nanaimo, B.C., was charged with murder and attempted murder after killing two people and injuring two others in a shooting at a mill. 

Violence hits HR: A 47-year-old employee at Ceridian, who was being terminated, was charged with attempted murder, aggravated assault and assault with a weapon after stabbing and injuring four employees on April 9. 

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