Employment & Labour

It's essential to keep up with changes on labour front: Williams

By Tony Poland, AdvocateDaily.com Associate Editor

“Seismic” changes in workplace law mean employers must stay informed to stay ahead, Markham-based employment lawyer Laura Williams tells AdvocateDaily.com.

Williams, founder and principal of Williams HR Law and Williams HR Consulting, says it’s important for organizations of all sizes to stay current if they expect to attract and retain quality employees.

“We have come through some significant shifts in the employment law landscape. There are still some aftershocks as a result of all the different pieces of legislation that have come down the pike plus there have been a number case law developments,” she says. “Many employers feel overwhelmed, and they don’t quite know where the law has settled.

“Employment standards laws are the backbone of the workplace relationship,” so it’s essential to have the right plan in place to guide your organization, says Williams, who is presenting her firm's eighth annual Proactive Workplace Law Workshop on May 23, at the Richmond Hill Country Club.

She says it's not just the volume, but also the nature of the changes brought about by the new Ontario government that will potentially affect organizations.

“Because of political change, you had some very sweeping reforms of certain legislation such as the Employment Standards Act that the government virtually clawed back," Williams says.

Shortly after the Conservative government came into power last fall, it introduced Bill 47, to replace Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017, saying the earlier legislation was “causing employers the most concern and unnecessary burden."

“The problem with that is employers went forth and started putting together a lot of strategies and policies and protocols to make sure they were in compliance with Bill 148,” says Williams. “But what do you do with all the changes you made when the law has changed? It's wrapping your mind around how to navigate this."

She says Bill 148 was “very employee favourable and, of course, the pendulum has swung and now it's very employer favourable.”

New policies also mean “employers have to manage the dynamic in the workplace after having what some would constitute enhanced benefits and entitlements being clawed back,” Williams notes.

She says there are some “hot areas” in the employment landscape that deserve special attention.

Harassment and harassment complaints in the workplace are “definitely on the rise," Williams says, adding that employers have to manage workplace conduct issues.

“The workforce is very sensitized to the fact that the employer has to institute protections against certain types of behaviours,” she says. “Employers have to respond to complaints and go through what is required by law.”

Off-duty conduct, or what employees choose to do outside working hours— particularly activities relating to social media—“is causing employers some angst,” says Williams.

Another key issue that organizations are dealing with is impairment in the workplace, especially since the legalization of recreational marijuana.

Williams says her annual workplace presentations are designed to meet the needs of both small and large organizations. The seminar is “very interactive” and not just “talking heads” on a stage.

Williams says her annual workshops "are designed to provide practical strategies to address many of these challenges and meet the needs of both small and large organizations." The seminar is very interactive, she points out, and not just “talking heads” on a stage.

“The information in terms of what we deliver and how we deliver it is very scalable,” she says. “The scenarios and the case studies that we use can be broadly applied.”

Williams stresses that it’s important “to make sure that you can you deliver on all fronts so that people can leave feeling that they received value.”

“I do a little bit of a talk show. We do all kinds of things just so it doesn't feel like a bunch of lawyers speaking at you,” she says. “You always want to take things up a notch. People come in looking for that thing that's a bit different, so we incorporate some 'wow' factor.”

Williams says her firm is regarded as a thought leader, and the presentation showcases that "we take our business of keeping employers informed seriously. You want to be the vanguard.”

That's why when a new development breaks, they want to be at the forefront, she says.

"Our brand is all about being proactive, not reactive, which is counterintuitive when it comes to the law,” Williams says.

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