Welcome to our “Ask the Expert” series for co-op start-ups. In this guest blog post, Michele Hengen from People First HR Services discusses three Human Resources issues your co-op should look out for (if it doesn’t have its own HR department).

At People First HR, we work with a lot of small to medium-sized businesses and branch offices of large organizations that often don’t have, or don’t have regular access to, Human Resources (HR) practitioners.

Business owners and managers are often doing HR off the sides of their desks or relying on someone within their office as the ‘go-to’ for HR matters because they don’t have time.  Many get by just fine this way…at least until something goes sideways. Regardless of industry, we’ve identified a few areas where our clients consistently face risk. For our clients who don’t have an HR department, these are often the most problematic because they require focus and time to manage.

Three HR ‘hotspots’

Termination & Severance: Even if you have documented and done action plans for an underperforming employee, if you decide to terminate their employment outside of the provincially outlined probation period, it doesn’t mean that it’s ‘for cause’ under Employment Standards. In many situations, when you end an employment relationship, you need to pay severance — and if you don’t follow processes appropriately, you risk a wrongful dismissal case. Employers should consider severance case by case…and sometimes that means paying beyond the minimum.

Leaves: Whether it’s a short-term sick, caregiver, or maternity leave, employers need to actively manage employee leaves.  Organizations are often surprised when people don’t come back after they’ve had no contact with them for a year, or when sick leaves drag on without documentation from medical practitioners. Employees also have a responsibility to participate in the return-to-work process. Managing leaves is a partnership, and understanding what employers can ask for under the Employment Standards Act and Human Rights legislation (and what they can’t) is a vital part of making sure people return successfully.

Accommodation: Employers have both a duty to inquire and a duty to accommodate under provincial and federal Human Rights Codes. For example, if an employer suspects that an employee’s poor performance is due to substance dependency or mental illness (both considered disabilities) they have a ‘duty to inquire’ about whether the employee needs to be accommodated.  If this employer were to terminate the employee without making this inquiry, this may be considered discrimination, and the employee may have grounds for a Human Rights complaint. The duty to accommodate applies in many areas related to the Code – beyond simply disability – and knowing where to be flexible can build employee loyalty while preventing discrimination concerns.

How can you avoid these pitfalls?

  • Bookmark your province’s Employment Standards, Health and Safety, and Human Rights Commission sites, and use the resources and fact-sheets provided.
  • Have a good relationship with an employment lawyer, particularly in matters of termination and severance. It can cost you a LOT less to get a consultation than face a wrongful dismissal or human rights complaint.
  • Get training. Provincial Human Rights and Health and Safety departments often have free in-person or online training.
  • *Shameless plug alert!* Subscribe to People First HR’s “HR @ Your Service”. For a low subscription fee of $100 per month, you can have on-demand advice by email or phone specific to your legislative jurisdiction.  Our team of experts has decades of combined experience and can support you in making sound (and defensible) decisions.

Not sure where to start?  Complete our free HR online assessment form to help identify where to prioritize your efforts.  Follow this link and scroll to the bottom of the page to find the assessment:  https://www.peoplefirsthr.com/hr-consulting/hr-atyourservice/

Call Michele Hengen at (306) 291-6620 or email mhengen@peoplefirsthr.com for more information.