Ontario HR association gets its act – finally

Third time the charm for bill that is testament to professionalism’ of HR: HRPA

The recently passed public act regulating the human resources profession in Ontario will give the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) more powers for investigating wrongdoing and stronger teeth when it comes to protecting professional designations from misuse.

But the legislation doesn’t mean there will be drastic changes overnight. Members will see very few procedural changes at this point, according to Scott Allinson, vice-president of public affairs at HRPA in Toronto.

"For their day-to-day activity, it’s not going to affect them very much at all… for the everyday member, there’s not going to be anything that’s going to really change for them."

But the act is worth trumpeting because it demonstrates the government’s confidence in the profession’s credibility, according to senior spokespeople at HRPA.

The Registered Human Resources Professionals Association Act — or, more colloquially, Bill 32 — unanimously passed third reading in the Ontario legislature on Nov. 6 by a vote of 95 to zero and received royal assent.

Although the legislation gives HRPA the power to regulate members, individuals can still practise HR in Ontario without being an HRPA member. Professionals who are not HRPA members in Ontario are not subject to the act.

What’s new in the legislation?

The act contains a number of key changes from the previous legislation governing HRPA — some of which are still to be determined. While the act sets forth certain powers, it will be up to HRPA to draft bylaws.

"The essential intent here was not on the powers," said Claude Balthazard, vice-president of regulatory affairs at HRPA.

"The content itself was actually never going to be ours to decide — it’s boilerplate," he said, adding it is virtually identical to legislation regulating accountants.

Incapacity: One critical change, according to HRPA, is the new act recognizes incapacity. Previously, when a complaint was made about a member, the only recourse was a punitive one, said Bill Greenhalgh, CEO of HRPA. Now, the association can respond to complaints relating to substance abuse or other personal challenges with a rehabilitative approach.

"(Incapacity) is the same as accommodation of people who have challenges, so the new act allows for a rehabilitative approach," said Greenhalgh.

Adjudicative process: The adjudicative process is brand new, he said — but some of the processes are already in practice. One of the most significant changes is the act separates the investigation from the discipline process in the event of a complaint.

"Three years ago, if someone had a complaint about a member… we would have the complaints, investigation and discipline committee review the complaint and decide what should be done," said Greenhalgh. "That’s like having the judge, jury and police all kind of sitting together deciding on someone who’s offended. So the new act requires us to split the complaints and investigation from discipline."

Investigative powers: There have been concerns raised about the investigative powers the act sets out for HRPA, such as the ability to enter business premises without a warrant to investigate a complaint, said Balthazard. But these investigative powers are the standard, and are the same for all professional regulators with a public act, he said.

"The clauses we have for investigation are the same for all public act regulators," said Balthazard. "So, basically, we got the boilerplate (legislation)… some people are going, ‘What does it mean, you can enter business premises without a warrant?’ Well, all regulators have that. Your ESA inspectors can do that, your WSIB inspectors can do that, social workers can do that."

Designation protection: The new act also provides tools to deal with the unauthorized use of the Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP) designation, said Allinson. The old act stated a person couldn’t use the designation unless she was a member of HRPA, but there was nothing specifying what HRPA could do if people misused the designation, said Greenhalgh.

"The new one now actually defines the process and defines a potential fine."

The potential fine the act defines for misuse of the CHRP designation — or any other designation listed in the act — is a maximum of $25,000. The offending individual may also have to pay some or all of the costs HRPA "reasonably incurred" in investigating or prosecuting the offence.

Other changes: HRPA will now have the authority to regulate firms, so if an individual member incorporates — say, as a consulting firm — she can still be regulated, said Balthazard. HRPA will also have the authority to conduct practice inspections, the details of which are to be determined by bylaw.

There will be three appointed government representatives on the HRPA board. There is no increase in members’ fees in regards to the bill, said Allinson.

Reputational value

It took about four years to get the legislation through (see sidebar for a history lesson), but HRPA persevered in lobbying for the act, which makes HR a top level or "tier 1" regulated profession in Ontario.

"Tier 1" is the term HRPA uses to refer to top-level regulated professions, most of which have public acts and are named in Schedule 1 of the Fair Access to Regulated Professions and Compulsory Trades Act (FARPA).

Becoming a "tier 1" regulated profession adds a level of prestige and credibility the old legislation did not afford, said Greenhalgh.

"From a member benefit point of view, I think this is really very significant, because it’s essentially the government saying… they are conferring credibility on HR as a top-level profession," he said.

Jennifer Tozer, an employee relations officer at the Thames Valley District School Board in London, Ont., feels the act will have positive implications for HRPA members.

"Members of the HRPA such as myself can now proudly say they are part of a public regulated profession. I believe the passing of this bill shows that the human resources profession is respected and valued for the significant contribution that human resources professionals make every day in their workplace," she said.

The act represents HRPA’s commitment to proactive measures to protect members and the CHRP designation, said Joy Vas, senior consultant at Human Resources Niagara Consultants in St. Catharines, Ont.

"(Bill 32) is the HRPA trying to be proactive and one of the things they’re trying to be proactive with is having the legal status to be able to say, ‘No, you can’t do that and (here’s why),’" said Vas, who is pleased about the new enforcement powers to prevent misuse of the CHRP designation.

"Until now… they’ve said you can’t use the CHRP designation if you’re not a member, but they didn’t really have power to go in there and do something about it," she said.

Looking ahead

HRPA will be holding town hall meetings and webinars with members beginning in January to provide more information about the act and how it will affect HRPA members.

"The immediate rollout plan for us is to basically get on the road (and hold) town hall meetings with the chapters to inform our members of what this now means for them, what the roles are, responsibilities are," said Allinson.

The Ontario law could have an impact across the country for other HR associations interested in going down the regulatory path.

"What this does is it provides a road map," said Greenhalgh. "A lot of things that we’ve been through will, I think, help (other provinces) in terms of the road map to move forward. And it hopefully should shorten the time frame as well."

Self-regulation is the "preferred approach" for regulating professional bodies in Canada, according to Balthazard. It refers to an occupational group entering into a legislative agreement with government to regulate the activities of its members.

At least two provinces are seriously and publicly considering self-regulation. The British Columbia Human Resources Management Association (BC HRMA) has been considering it for some time, according to Christian Codrington, senior manager of professional practice at BC HRMA in Vancouver.

"There’s a lot of moving pieces in self-regulating a profession, and we’ve been just evaluating what that will take, and determining what our next steps are," he said.

"We’ve certainly been watching with a keen interest how Ontario’s been proceeding with theirs."

Alberta is also considering self-regulation and has taken some steps in that direction.

"We’ve had some productive conversations with the Alberta government already... it will still take some time," said Aly Bandali, chair of the Human Resources Institute of Alberta (HRIA) in Calgary.

But the passage of Bill 32 will "absolutely" help the case for self-regulation, he said.

"It focuses a light on our application in a very favourable way," said Bandali. "It elevates the profession, it adds to the credibility of the profession." To read Bill 32 in its entirety, please visit www.hrreporter.com or visit www.ontla.on.ca/bills/bills-files/40_Parliament/Session2/b032rep.pdf.

New HR designations

The new act sets forth seven designations — most of which don’t actually exist yet. HRPA reserved the designations for potential future use, but they haven’t yet decided which ones they might introduce down the road, according to Bill Greenhalgh, CEO of HRPA.

The designations listed in the act include:

•Registered Human Resources Professional (RHRP)

•Associate Certified Human Resources Professional (ACHRP)

•Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP)

•Senior Human Resources Professional (SHRP)

•Certified Industrial Relations Counsellor (CIRC)

•Certified Human Capital Professional (CHCP)

•Certified Human Capital Leader (CHCL).

A history of regulatory efforts

Bill 32 was the third attempt to implement an act that would regulate HR professionals as a top-level profession in Ontario. Two similar bills failed.

Bill 138 failed to reach third reading before the legislature adjourned for a 2011 election. Bill 28 did not pass before former premier Dalton McGuinty announced his resignation and prorogued parliament in 2012.

HRPA’s previous act was a private member’s bill passed in 1990 and it didn’t reflect the realities of changing business practices, said Bill Greenhalgh, CEO of HRPA.

"Things that we take for granted today — like diversity, workplace harassment, bullying legislation, even some of the safety legislation, employment standards — they’ve all developed quite dramatically in even the last 10 years," he said. "Our original act didn’t reflect many of those changes, so this new one really brings it up to date."

It basically takes a 20-year-old, 1,500-word document and turns it into a 38-page document that brings it into the 21st century for a self-regulated profession, according to Scott Allinson, vice-president of regulatory affairs at HRPA.

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