Earlier this week I concluded that the rule of law no longer applies in many Ontario workplaces. The epiphany hit me when I was meeting with the managing director of a boutique law firm.
When I use the expression “rule of law” I mean the principle that all people and institutions are subject to and accountable to law that is fairly applied and enforced.
The fact is many employers are unaware of many of the laws that apply to them, and the Ontario government is not enforcing many of them.
You would think that a law firm would be aware of the laws that apply to it but the reality is that most small and medium size law firms do not have a dedicated HR person and do not have an employment lawyer on staff.
Here are some of the employment laws that apply to a small firm:
As of Dec. 31, 2017, the Law Society of Upper Canada – soon to be the Law Society of Ontario – requires: all lawyers to adopt a statement of principles acknowledging their obligation to promote equality, diversity and inclusion, and: all law firms with 10 or more lawyers to develop a human rights/diversity policy dealing with recruitment, retention and promotion. There is much uncertainty relating to the required contents of these documents.
As of Dec. 31, 2017, an employer with 20 or more employees must file a compliance report under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). By 2015, about 65 per cent of employers had not complied with the 2012 reporting obligation. In addition, nine new obligations were imposed on small employers under AODA earlier this year including the obligation to notify job applicants that accommodations for disabilities will be provided on request.
On Nov. 22, 2017, the government passed a myriad of significant changes to Ontario’s employment standards law. Some of the changes became effective immediately and many of the changes will take effect on Jan. 1, 2018.
Although a law firm office is not a particularly dangerous place to work, all employees are required to receive mandatory health & safety awareness training under the Occupational Health & Safety Act and mandatory customer service training under AODA. In addition, employers with more than five employees must prepare, post and review annually a health & safety policy, a workplace harassment policy, and a workplace violence policy. Furthermore, all employers are required to appoint a trained investigator to investigate an incident of workplace harassment, and the employer must have a written complaint and investigation process. The employee need not file a complaint; the obligation is to investigate incidents and formal complaints. If not, the Ministry of Labour can appoint an external investigator at the employer’s expense.
The list of new obligations that have been imposed on Ontario employers in recent years goes on and on.
You would think a small or medium-sized law firm would know about all of its legal obligations and comply with them but I doubt all or even most of these law firms are in compliance.
When reputable, well-intentioned small to medium size law firms do not follow the rule of law how can we expect less knowledgeable employers to do so.
So I ask the Ontario government: Will you stop introducing new laws that are not being followed or being enforced, and start educating employers on their obligations? When this education process is complete will you start enforcing these laws?