On Wednesday April 29, 2015 Gowlings Ottawa hosted its annual Employment and Labour Law Seminar. Professionals and staff from Gowlings’ Ottawa, Waterloo and Montreal offices participated in welcoming over 80 clients to the numerous sessions highlighting recent developments in employment, labour and human rights law. The Seminar covered a range of employment topics, from disability accommodation to social media and the workplace.
Melanie Polowin of the Ottawa office addressed changes that have arisen in the legal standard to accommodate disabilities in the workplace. Using an acrostic, Melanie provided the wise instructions to employers to STOP, DROP and ROL, to avoid any rash responses to employees raising issues of disability. The employer’s positive duty to accommodate includes investigating the options and substantively exercising flexible and reasonable steps to determine accommodations that will not cause undue hardship to the business.
Jennifer Emmans, an Associate in the Ottawa office, provided a focused update on some interesting changes in the state of the law and why employers should take notice of these decisions. One case demonstrates the link that is often made between discrimination and wrongful dismissal claims. An employee was dismissed from her employment after she complained about a “Men’s Only” social event for clients that she was not invited to and she received 7 months of reasonable notice damages and an award of $15,000 for compensation for injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect. (McConaghie v. Systemgroup Consulting Inc., 2015 ONSC 2213)
Katia Diab, an Associate from the Gowlings Waterloo office discussed factors that will affect the enforceability of termination provisions. Katia reinforced the view that in employment contracts clear and certain clauses can often save an employer major problems in the future, especially when it comes to termination. Employers should especially consider “saving language” to guarantee that employees will be granted all entitlements under the relevant legislation.
David Law of the Ottawa office, discussed the innovative area of social media in the workplace. David highlighted the many areas where social media can figure in to employment relationships, whether it is through employee’s overuse of social media during working hours, negative comments that an employee posts about their employer or fellow employees, or inappropriate videos that are made available through the employer’s email providers. As case law surrounding social media issues continues to develop employers should be implementing policies that not only protect employees but also that engage them and encourage respect in any form of communication.
Lastly, Mark Josselyn and Elisa Scali, Partners in the Gowlings Ottawa office were joined by Patrick Glaude, a Partner from the Montreal office for a panel discussion. The panel proposed “hypothetical” scenarios for the clients to contemplate and discussed their individual analysis of the legal issues in each. One scenario was modeled after the 2014 Ontario Court of Appeal decision (Boucher v. Wal-Mart, 2014 ONCA 419) which though reducing the jury award amounts, still upheld significant punitive damages and aggravated damages for an employee who was harassed by her former boss and for which Wal-Mart failed to properly investigate. Following the panel discussion all professionals fielded pertinent questions from clients, such as whether workplace policies apply at non-employer sponsored events with a large number of co-workers in attendance, and how far the duty to inquire into a suspected employee disability extends.
Similar client seminars were held at the Waterloo and Toronto offices the following week. These events are part of the range of in-person and other educational services offered by Gowlings to clients across the country.