Throughout the year, we keep you up to date on recent legal developments through this blog. As 2013 winds down, we are looking ahead to the upcoming year and have flagged the following issues that employers should consider and, if necessary, address going in to 2014:
1) Mandatory Compliance with AODA Integrated Accessibility Standard - January 1, 2014
As previously discussed, by January 1, 2014 organizations with 50 or more employees must have achieved the following objectives under the "Integrated Accessibility Standard" of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005:
- develop, implement and maintain a written policy and statement of commitment regarding the requirements of the Integrated Standard;
- develop, implement and maintain a written multi-year accessibility plan addressing how the requirements of the Integrated Standard will be met;
- make the plan, statement of commitment and policy available to the public;
- consider accessibility in the organization's self-service kiosks (if kiosks are utilized); and
- ensure that the organization's new public websites and web content (including content posted after January 1, 2012) meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 Level A specific accessibility thresholds.
These requirements, as well as those applying to organizations with less than 50 employees, are further outlined here.
2) OHSA Update
Starting as of July 1, 2014, Ontario employers will be required to ensure that their supervisors and workers complete a basic "safety awareness" training program, the requirements of which are outlined under the Occupational Health and Safety Awareness and Training Regulation (O. Reg. 297/13) (the Regulation). According to the Regulation, workers must complete the mandatory training program "as soon as reasonably possible" and supervisors must complete it within one week of starting work as a supervisor. The Regulation also mandates that records of such training be kept by an employer.
Notably, workers and supervisors who previously completed a training program, either with their current or a former employer, do not have to retake the training if they can provide proof of such training and it can be verified that such previous training meets the requirements of the Regulation. Further, supervisors who have completed a basic training program for supervisors prior to the Regulation's coming into force will not be required to complete a worker training program in addition to the supervisor program.
In other OHSA-related news, recent penalties imposed on a Brampton roofing company and one of its supervisors further demonstrates the importance of complying with occupational health and safety legislation. In particular, a $50,000 fine (plus a mandatory 25% victim surcharge) was levied against the roofing company after it pleaded guilty to failing to ensure safety measures were carried out and failing to notify a health and safety inspector after one of its workers died falling from a ladder. More notably, the supervisor of the roofing company was sentenced to 15 days in jail after pleading guilty to failing to ensure that the worker wore the required protective equipment and knowingly misleading the health and safety inspector. He had initially informed the inspector that the worker died working at his house rather than on the job.
The Courts are not hesitant to impose significant penalties on those employers and individuals that fail to abide by their obligations under occupational health and safety legislation, particularly if such failure involves deceitful conduct.
3) Technology Use & Social Media
One issue many employers can't ignore going into 2014 is the increasing overlap between employees' work and personal lives, especially through the use of technology. Two of the most common technology-related issues that arise relate to employee use of social media and the implementation of workplace bring your own device (BYOD) policies.
It surprises us that not all employers have addressed the use of social media by employees where such use affects the employer's business. We recommend that all employers have policies in place which govern acceptable use of social media. Such policies are crucial to ensure that employees understand what work-related purposes social media can be used for and what expectations they should have with respect to the privacy of the content they post on social media forums. The consequences of violating the policy should also be made clear to the employee in advance of any dispute arising. We suspect that the employee in this case would have benefited from reviewing a social media policy.
While BYOD policies can provide cost-savings and other benefits for employers, such policies also have drawbacks such as a potential increase in security risks and the decreased oversight of employees work hours. We recently came across this story about the novel approach some employers are taking to the 24/7 access to email many employees now have. These employers are limiting or eliminating employees' after-hours use of email in an attempt to prevent burnout and increase productivity among employees.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.