Providing a green environment, lunch breaks and minimum hours (Toughest HR question)

Green initiatives don't have to cost much

Brian Kreissl

Question: What is the most efficient way to provide a “green” environment, while keeping budgetary needs in mind?

Answer: The great thing about green initiatives is they don’t have to cost a lot of money. In many cases, doing the right thing in terms of environmental sustainability costs less than more traditional approaches.

Examples of some green initiatives that can actually save an organization money include the following:

• Asking employees to bring in their own reusable cups rather than providing styrofoam cups.

• Using videoconferencing or teleconferencing for meetings and conferences.

• Requiring employees to power down their computers and turn off their lights at night.

• Including footers at the bottom of email messages asking recipients to consider the environment before printing the message.

• Re-engineering business processes to eliminate or reduce the need for hard copies of documents.

• Switching to energy-saving light bulbs in the office.

Question: My friend works 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and gets one half-hour break. Is this right?

Answer: It depends on the jurisdiction. Assuming your friend works in Ontario for a provincially regulated organization, the answer is yes. The allowance for a lunch break in Ontario is found in the Employment Standards Act, 2000. If your friend works in a different province, she is subject to the break requirements found in that province’s employment standards legislation.

This only applies to employees who work for provincially regulated businesses. Some businesses — such as banks, telecommunications companies and railroads — are regulated by the federal government. Employees who work for these businesses are covered by the Canada Labour Code, which contains no requirement for a lunch break.

It is also worth remembering employment standards only set out the minimum standards employees are entitled to. An employment contract or collective agreement may provide an employee with longer or more frequent lunch breaks.

Question: Do people have to work a minimum of four hours?

Answer: An employee does not have to work a minimum number of hours unless her employment contract or collective agreement says otherwise. However, employees who report for work must normally be paid for at least a minimum number of hours. This is commonly referred to as “call-in pay.”

In Ontario, an employee who reports to work must be paid for at least three hours at the minimum wage rate. If the employee’s regular wages for the time actually worked exceed three hours at the minimum wage rate, then she must be paid the higher amount instead.

There are some exceptions to this rule. It does not apply to students or employees who normally work less than three-hour shifts, nor does it apply when an employer is unable to provide work due to “acts of God” such as fire, lightning and power failure. Finally, it does not apply to employees who are exempt from the minimum wage requirements in general, such as lawyers, doctors, dentists and other professionals.

Call-in pay varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and, in some cases, the minimum number of hours must be paid at the employee’s regular wage rate, not at minimum wage. For example, in the Northwest Territories, an employee who reports to work must be paid for four hours at her regular wage rate.

Brian Kreissl is managing editor of Consult Carswell, an HR work solution that delivers best practices, legal compliance, news, articles and a suite of ready-to-use tools in one easy-to-use online service. He can be reached at [email protected] or visit for more information.

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