Human resources year in review

Looking back at the top stories in Canadian HR Reporter from 2013

The birth of a union

The Canadian Auto Workers union and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union merged to form Unifor, a 300,000-member strong behemoth. The union said it plans to aggressively pursue and protect vulnerable workers — those working in minimum wage and part-time jobs with no benefits and no job security. 2014 will be a big year for the union as it tries to gain traction in new workplaces and sectors.

The cheque’s in the mail – for real

A three-decade long fight for pay equity at Canada Post finally came to an end. Cheques were set to go out starting in August and were expected to cost the Crown corporation $250 million.

HR shortage? Really?

The gap between the skills employers need and the skills workers persisted, with shortages in health and mining topping the list. The HR profession is also facing a shortage, according to a CIBC study – though it’s tough to find an HR professional who agrees.

Yukon looks south

HR professionals in the Yukon teamed up with the British Columbia Human Resources Management Association (BC HRMA) and were eligible to join as full members after the Yukon became the association’s eighth membership region.

Mental health

Employers have been watching nervously as mental health issues took an increasingly higher toll on the bottom line. In January, the Mental Health Commission of Canada unveiled its National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace — and Canadian HR Reporter hosted a special roundtable discussion on mental health.

Big money south of the border

HR may finally be getting the recognition it deserves, at least at the bank. The average total compensation for the most senior HR professionals weighed in at about US$1.1 million, found a survey of 900 large, multinational firms in the United States.

Family status accommodation grows up

In January, the Federal Court upheld a ruling that the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) discriminated against an employee by not accommodating her child-care needs. The employee worked rotating shifts and CBSA had an unwritten policy that employees seeking fixed shifts to accommodate child-care arrangements had to take part-time shifts.

CHRP makeover begins

The required professional capabilities (RPCs) for the Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP) designation were put under the microscope for the first time since 2007, and the notion of an entry-level HR designation was also floated. In Ontario’s new regulatory legislation, a number of new designations were listed — including an associate CHRP (ACHRP). We could potentially see new designations in the not-too-distant future.

Would your staff help?

The pleas of an asthmatic teenager went unanswered by employees at a Tim Hortons franchise in London, Ont. The 17-year-old managed to gasp out “phone” but was told the outlet’s phone was for employee use only and was directed to a payphone across the street. A customer called 911 and stayed with the teen until paramedics arrived.

Best Buy, Future Shop step up

After we profiled what many called the mishandling of store closures by Best Buy and Future Shop — such as staff finding out the news after arriving for their shifts, met by locked doors and security guards — the vice-presidents of human resources at both retail giants stepped up and offered an explanation and some clarification in a guest commentary. It was refreshing candour from top HR professionals.

To test or not to test

The dust settled, somewhat, on the random drug and alcohol testing debate. An Irving paper mill in New Brunswick lost a fight with its union to conduct random alcohol testing because there simply wasn’t enough evidence to suggest there was a problem — there had been eight incidents of consumption or impairment at the mill in the 15 years leading up to 2006, but no associated accidents or even near misses. However, the Supreme Court of Canada did not completely close the door on testing — it may be justified in workplaces where there is a real problem.

Canadian experience taboo

The Ontario Human Rights Commission called for an end to companies asking for “Canadian experience” in job postings, unless there’s a really good reason for it. The commission called the requirement a shield for outright discrimination and said it was “no guarantee of anything, really.”

Mental health ‘bible’ overhauled

The boringly named Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) was revised. Despite its title, DSM-5 caught the attention of HR professionals. The manual, used by employers, arbitrators, insurers, workers’ compensation boards and more, included new disorders that raised concerns it would “medicalize a lot of normal human emotions and human behaviour.” That could lead to more requests for accommodation and higher benefit costs for employers.

Interns – to pay or not to pay

A weak youth job market, combined with the death of a young Alberta intern who worked long hours, sparked a call for changes around unpaid interns and debate around whether employers that don’t pay interns were being immoral or breaking the law. The general rule is if the internship is part of a school curriculum, the employer is OK not to pay — but in other cases the interns should be paid.

B.C. goes after bullies

British Columbia unveiled new health and safety rules designed to eliminate workplace bullying and harassment after a spike in psychological injury claims. WorkSafeBC released a toolkit to help employers, including developing a policy and implementing procedures for reporting and dealing with incidents and complaints.

Quebec moves to ban religious symbols

Quebec caused a stir when it announced plans to ban the wearing of “ostentatious” religious symbols by workers on the government payroll. Items such as large crosses, turbans and burkas would be outlawed under the “Charter of Values.” The state “must be neutral,” the province argued. But others saw it as outright racism and one clever hospital in Oshawa, Ont., ran ads featuring a woman wearing a hijab, with the tagline “We don’t care what’s on your head. We care what’s in it.”

HRPA gets its bill

The third time was the charm for the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) as the Ontario legislature passed Bill 32, the Registered Human Resources Professionals Association Act. The first time the bill was introduced in 2011, we heard a lot of outcry from HR professionals. (That bill died when an election was called.) The second time, in 2012, the criticism was more muted. (That bill died when former premier Dalton McGuinty resigned and prorogued parliament.) By the time Bill 32 came about in 2013, we didn’t hear a whimper of dissent. Neither did the legislature, which passed the bill unanimously. How the bill changes the HR profession will be a story we’ll be watching closely in 2014.

The C-suite

Our partnership with the Strategic Capability Network brought readers interesting stories from the C-suite, including an inside look from CEO Michael McCain on how Maple Leaf Foods handled the 2008 Listeria outbreak that killed more than 20 people and Google’s efforts to drive innovation among its staff.

Does right to work have a passport?

Right-to-work laws, which give workers the option not to join a union at unionized workplaces, passed in some surprising jurisdictions — including Michigan. That sparked a lot of commentary on this side of the border, particularly in Ontario where the provincial Tories — who aren’t in power — pledged to bring the laws north. But labour groups vowed to fight tooth and nail, and some experts cast doubt on whether it is even possible since collective bargaining is somewhat constitutionally protected in Canada.

Terrible tweets

HR professionals collectively cringed when the person in charge of social media at HMV in the United Kingdom live tweeted mass layoffs — “We’re live tweeting from the HR firing session, this is so exciting! We’ve all been fired, in a group of 50+ people! And those who ruined the business are safe… hooray!” read the Tweet on the company’s official Twitter account.

RBC outsourcing flap

RBC found itself in the hot seat after an outsourced employee went public with his story, and it sparked a media firestorm. While it’s still a little head-scratching as to why it got so much attention— companies outsource work all the time, at home and abroad — it provided a forum to discuss the issue across the country. It eventually led to a full-page apology, in newspapers, signed by Gordon Nixon, the bank’s CEO. The outcry also led Ottawa to revamp rules around its temporary foreign worker program.

Bad year for BlackBerry

Canada’s technology darling had a trying year in 2013, with BlackBerry shedding thousands of jobs as its attempt to turn the company around floundered despite the introduction of a new operating system and new phones, including the Q10 and Z10. Shedding so many workers posed challenges, creating morale issues after word of layoffs was leaked to the media before employees themselves knew. There has to be a better way to handle job cuts, right?

Work at home? No way

Yahoo’s new CEO, Marissa Mayer, issued an edict that banned working from home for employees at the tech company. “Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions,” read a memo attributed to Jacqueline Reses, head of HR.

Alberta shines in flood

Alberta was hit with devastating, historic floods and downtown Calgary looked like abandoned swampland as business continuity plans were put to the test. By all accounts, employers and residents got more than a passing grade — pulling together and recovering quickly in an impressive show of solidarity. They even pulled off the legendary Calgary Stampede, just two weeks after the grounds were submerged. Canadians were impressed.

Walmart workers reject union

A decade-long battle to unionize a Walmart store in Weyburn, Sask., came to an end with the retail giant victorious. Workers voted to unionize but the United Food and Commercial Workers union was unable to reach a first agreement and a move was put forward to decertify. The Supreme Court of Canada refused to block the vote, but the union vowed to continue its fight to unionize other Walmart workers.

Alberta shines in flood

Alberta was hit with devastating, historic floods and downtown Calgary looked like abandoned swampland as business continuity plans were put to the test. By all accounts, employers and residents got more than a passing grade — pulling together and recovering quickly in an impressive show of solidarity. They even pulled off the legendary Calgary Stampede, just two weeks after the grounds were submerged. Canadians were impressed.

Rob Ford: Enough said

Toronto’s crack-smoking mayor brought a global spotlight to Canada’s largest city — but not in a good way. His denials and bizarre behaviour caught the attention of late-night comics in the United States, who filled countless hours of airtime chronicling his missteps. But few in Canada’s largest city were laughing, and HR professionals were left scratching their heads at how he was allowed to get away with his behaviour, which never would have been tolerated in the private sector.


1. U of T, McGill, UBC, U of Alberta among top 100 universities worldwide

2. Employers scaling back salary increases for 2014: Survey

3. Jason Kenney new minister of employment and social development

4. ‘Is the boss single?’ among unusual interview questions by candidates

5. Salary budgets to increase 3.1 per cent for 2014: Mercer

6. Age discrimination in the workplace an ongoing problem: Study

7. 1 in 5 Canadians expect to never retire: Survey

8. WestJet most attractive employer for second year in a row: Randstad

9. Federal transgender discrimination bill passed by Parliament

10. CHRP translates into more pay, faster promotions: Survey

The top 10 list above is comprised of web-only exclusives not available in the print issue. The website features daily articles from across Canada and around the world.


1. Hiring for culture fit at Lululemon Athletica

2. Strategic recruitment trends for 2013

3. How compensation contributes to WestJet’s culture

4. 2013 Best Workplaces in Canada awards

5. 10 best practices of the employee benefits industry

6. Encouraging diversity in the workplace: HR’s role

7. Employee communications at Starbucks

8. Total rewards at Holt Renfrew

9. Overcoming generational issues in the workplace

10. Finning International’s new approach to leadership


1. Vacation time pay and myths, by Stuart Rudner

2. Overtime risks and misconceptions, by Stuart Rudner

3. Providing a doctor’s note – eventually, by Jeffrey R. Smith

4. Language in the workplace, by Brian Kreissl

5. HR’s responsibility for occupational health and safety, by Brian Kreissl

6. Why would I want to work in HR? by Brian Kreissl

7. Severance pay can’t be cut, by Jeffrey R. Smith

8. Dangers of fixed-term contracts, by Stuart Rudner

9. How to calculate overtime for salaried employees in Ontario, by Alan McEwen

10. Who’s the Yahoo who banned working at home? by Todd Humber

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