A recent decision of the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (the “HRTO”) has further defined the scope of the test for “family status” discrimination. Employees may not be required to take measures to find alternative arrangements for infrequent, sporadic or unexpected family needs, before seeking protection under the Human Rights Code (the “Code”).
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In today’s rapidly changing world of workplace compliance, global organizations must not only comply with the laws of their headquarters but also the laws of the countries where their workforces and even their suppliers operate. Many seemingly compliant organizations face unseen global workplace and supply chain compliance risks, causing great concern among corporate leaders. In addition to potential harm to workers, failing to manage global workplace risks can have a significant, long-lasting impact on business strategies, legal risk profile and brand reputations. How can you help “save the day” for your company?
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New legislation aimed at addressing sexual violence and harassment in Ontario received Royal Assent on March 8, 2016.

The Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act (Supporting Survivors and Challenging Sexual Violence and Harassment), 2015 (the “Act”) is part of the Ontario government’s action plan to stop sexual violence and harassment. The Act was first introduced by the Ontario Legislature as Bill 132 on October 27, 2015. Click here for a link to our earlier blog post on Bill 132.

The Act introduces amendments to various statutes which will come into force in the coming months. The amendments are intended to bolster the protection of students and employees, among other objectives.

Colleges and universities will have new obligations placed upon them as of January 1, 2017. Employers will be subject to the new obligations as of September 8, 2016. Below are the key amendments.


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As employers well know by now, in 2005 the Ontario Government started on a 20-year legislative journey, passing the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (“AODA”), with the objective of achieving accessibility for all Ontarians by 2025. The legislation covers five broad areas, establishing accessibility standards related to (1) information and communications; (2) employment; (3) public spaces; (4) customer service; and (5) transportation.

This time last year we reported on the accessibility standards and deadlines that both small and large organizations would be required to meet in 2015. That post can be found here. Following the AODA phased implementation plan, the next set of deadlines are fast approaching. Employers must once again ensure they are prepared to meet the obligations set out in the Accessibility Standards for Customer Service, and the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulations. The requirements to meet will vary depending on the size of your organization.

The following accessibility requirements take effect January 1, 2016:


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Employers requesting that employees undergo independent (or second) medical examinations (“IME“) can breathe a sigh of relief. Previously, such employers ran the risk of an IME request being unjustified or ordered in bad faith, and as a potential basis for, or a contributor to, a subsequent discrimination complaint or wrongful dismissal lawsuit.

The difference between justified and unjustified IME requests becomes much clearer following the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal’s (“HRTO“) recent decision in Bottiglia v. Ottawa Catholic School Board (“Bottiglia“). In Bottiglia, the HRTO tackles the justified/unjustified IME issue by adopting a contextual analysis, which is both clear to follow and employer-friendly. The key takeaway is that a request for an IME will be warranted where it is found to have been reasonable in the circumstances.


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Franchisors who place strict controls on their franchisees may also have to answer for their franchisee’s human rights practices.

Product and service consistency is the backbone of coffee giant Tim Hortons’ successful business model. Tim Hortons, like many other successful franchisors, imposes a strict regime on its stores in order to ensure that all Canadians can get the same cup of coffee, in the same cup, regardless of where they order it. Control manifests itself through an extensive franchise agreement, detailed operations rules and regular audits of individual stores.


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On October 27, 2015, the Ontario Government introduced legislation as part of its action plan to stop sexual violence and harassment. Bill 132, An Act to amend various statutes with respect to sexual violence, sexual harassment, domestic violence and related matters, presents changes to various statutes, aimed at making workplaces, university campuses, and communities safer, while recognizing the needs of survivors of sexual violence and harassment. Below are the key proposed amendments affecting employers.
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Employers and employment lawyers take heed; you cannot paint with broad strokes when it comes to human rights issues. So says the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal in a recent decision that limits the application of a Supreme Court of Canada (the “SCC“) ruling last year that seemed to restrict the reach of human rights legislation in the context of partnership agreements.
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Good news for employers! The Alberta Court of Appeal recently upheld a termination resulting from the violation of its workplace drug policy. The decision in Stewart v Elk Valley Coal Corporation demonstrates the effectiveness of a well-sculpted company drug policy in justifying termination decisions, particularly in the context of human rights obligations relating to the duty to accommodate addictions. In this case, the court appreciated that the employer went to great lengths to a) demonstrate the reasonableness of its policies and b) tie each policy back to the overarching goal of promoting safety in the workplace. This case should prompt a review of workplace drug and alcohol policies to ensure alignment with the court’s guidance.
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A recent New York Times article about the workplace culture at Amazon has spurred increased debate about the value of so-called “purposeful Darwinism”, in which competitive pressures (both internal and external to the workplace) and grand ambitions foster a cut-throat and gruelling workplace environment that leaves employees struggling to keep up or out in the cold.

Being at the top of any field, some would argue, demands this type of attitude and requires employees and managers who settle for nothing less than the best. When a company operates in a fast-paced, high-stakes industry that rewards continual improvement, hyper-efficiency, precision, and immediate satisfaction, there may be very little room for either error or rest. In exchange for a few years of catering to extraordinary expectations, employees receive above-marker compensation, responsibility, and experience that they might not gain in a less exacting workplace. This assumes, of course, that employees have the option of moving up or moving on, which is often more true for white-collar employees than blue-collar ones.

On the other hand, some companies appear to have achieved remarkable growth while maintaining a positive space for employee engagement and encouraging a more even work/life balance – on the whole, even if not day-to-day. For these companies, corporate sustainability extends beyond ensuring a healthy profit margin and minimal carbon footprint. Rather, it also involves ensuring that key talent can be attracted, encouraged, and maintained and that the diversity of the workforce is harnessed and propelled into innovative ideas and approaches. This attitude towards employee relations may require sacrificing short-term gains for potentially long-term viability – a cost that some employers, particularly those with demanding shareholders, may be unwilling or unable to pay.
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