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As businesses continue to look forward as they develop staffing plans to tackle 2023, they may also wish to take a quick look back at new policies that have now been added to the Employment Standards Act, 2000.

 

These include the right to disconnect legislation first unveiled in Ontario Bill 27 in December of 2021, and the electronic monitoring policy outlined in Bill 88, Working for Workers Act, 2022, and added to the ESA in April of last year.

 

The new policies – the subject of much discussion since they were first introduced - directly affect employers that employ 25 or more employees as of January 1 of any year and must be in place before March 1 of that year.

 

We reached out to Meagan Swan, an employment law expert at Pavey Law LLP in Cambridge, to offer insight on what these new policies mean for employers:

 

 

Q. What should employers be thinking about when it comes to timelines surrounding these ESA changes?

 

Meagan:  Employers were supposed to have these new policies in place last year, but as we know for some employers it takes a new year to really start thinking about what needs to be done in 2023. If an employer now has 25 employees, inclusive of all the employer’s business locations, as of Jan. 1, these policies are to be in place by March 1 of each year and provided to their employees within 30 days.

The government has been very reasonable about rolling out the new requirements and giving lots of notice in advance. As we start a new year, employers need to think, ‘do I now meet the employee threshold’ and ‘if I do, how do I create the right policy for my business’. 

The timelines each year do give employers a buffer to ensure they have any new policy reviewed before implementing them with employees.

 

 

Q. What are some of the steps employers should be taking regarding these policies if they haven’t already?

 

Meagan: The first step is to make sure they have the necessary policies in place by March 1 that work for their business. However, employers need to understand that these new policies do not give any new rights to employees. They are basically setting out what the expectations are when it comes to electronic monitoring and the right to disconnect. These policies are all about being transparent. 

An employer can tailor these policies to their business.  For the Right to Disconnect policy, an employer can outline the expectations for when an employee is required to review or respond to emails after hours or engage in other after-hours activities. 

An employer can also include exceptions in their policy to address urgent work that may arise. 

Communicating these expectations to employees is likely not new.  Rather, we are now requiring employers to have these expectations outlined in writing. I have seen some employers implement standard form policies – because there are lots of templates online – and then they end up restricting themselves more than necessary because many are very employee focused. 

These standard form policies don’t consider or address each employer’s specific business or its needs, so it’s important to obtain advice regarding the use of any template to see if it’s the right fit for your business. 

An employer should ensure their policy includes those exceptions and considerations needed for their own operations. Simply, an employer should consider obtaining professional assistance when creating their policies.

 

 

Q. What type of penalties could employers be facing surrounding lack of policy implementation?

 

Meagan: The government has not updated the regulations to include any specific penalties related to these new policies.  As of now, the standard complaint process to the Ministry of Labour is available to employees if an employer had not complied with its requirement to implement the policies.  This type of complaint will likely trigger a visit or communication from an ESA officer to investigate whether the employer is compliant.  If not, an Order requiring the employer to become compliant will likely be issued.

 

 

Q. Were there many changes to the Employment Standards Act in 2022 and did the pandemic play a role?

 

Meagan: COVID-19 has really pushed the government to implement new regulations through the ESA. For example, we had the Infectious Disease Emergency Leave (IDEL) regulation implemented to temporarily change the ESA rules related to reduction of hours, pay and layoffs.   We all know that the pandemic also required many employees to work remotely.  

Many of these employees began feeling the stresses of remote work and maintaining a balance between their home and work life. I believe the government was reacting to these pandemic related issues by implementing the requirement for employers to have Right to Disconnect and Electronic Monitoring policies in their workplace.

Many employers were hesitant at first and believed these polices would be onerous or would take away their ability to manage their own business.

But in reality, most of my clients have been able to implement policies that fit their business and it is now very transparent to employees what the expectations are for remote work and the monitoring of work.   

 

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The office holiday party is making a big return.

 

According to RSVPify – an online RSVP and event management platform – pent-up demand following two and half-years of pandemic protocols, plus current staffing retention challenges facing many businesses, has many employers looking for ways to reward staff and perhaps create a more cohesive workplace environment.

 

But finding just the right solution to host an office holiday gathering can often be difficult for those in smaller workplaces.

 

“They basically have very few choices and often go to a restaurant for dinner. But if they want to have a little bit more, something with dancing and entertainment, it can be very difficult for companies with 10 or 30 people to do that,” says Spiro Dracopoulos, Business Development Manager, Bingemans in Kitchener.

 

As a viable and fun alternative, Bingemans is once again offering its Holiday Gala this year on Dec. 16 to provide smaller companies with an option to enjoy an evening out together.

 

“We just want to give smaller business the chance to come out and have a special night,” says Spiro, describing the event which features great food and dancing, plus the chance to meet people from other businesses.

 

“They (companies) feel it’s great value,” he says, referring to the gala which prior to the pandemic attracted anywhere between 400 to 500 people. This year Spiro expects about 250 will attend. “We will build it back up again and I hope in a year or two we’ll be back up to where we were before COVID-19.”

 

In Cambridge, Tapestry Hall is also playing host to smaller businesses with its Making Spirits Bright event, also on Dec. 16, featuring seasonal musical treats and Big Band sounds by the Cambridge Symphony Orchestra (CSO) and their special guest the Bob De Angelis Trio. The event, sponsored by the Souder Family, will also feature not only a wide selection of music, but a four-course meal and dancing.

 

Jillian Monaghan, communications manager for the CSO, says this kind of community collaboration fits in nicely with the organization’s mission.

 

“Our mission really is connecting the community through the power of music,” she says, explaining how the CSO – founded in 2002 – works with many community partners to create sponsorships that bring even more culture to Cambridge.

 

Jillian sees Making Spirits Bright as a wonderful opportunity to showcase the Gaslight District and downtown, noting how much has changed in the last 20 years in terms of new businesses and the arrival of the University of Waterloo’s School of Architecture.

“A lot of things have been going into the downtown core and it’s really a pretty exciting place right now,” she says.

 

 

Making Spirts Bright

 

The event, which has a ‘Great Gatsby’ party theme, kicks off when the doors open at 6 p.m. and features an incredible four-course meal, themed out with bougie favourites of the 1920s.

 

“Big Band was definitely part of the dancing revolution in the Roaring Twenties,” says Jillian. “And the featured band the Bob De Angelis Trio is quiet well known and offers really fun music.”

 

She says members of the CSO, which can number between 35 to 45 professional musicians depending on the performance, will perform four sets throughout the evening.

 

“We’re encouraging our musicians to stick around afterwards so people can meet them,” says Jillian, adding this performance is a bit different than the CSO’s usual concerts which this year includes an event called East Coast – Holiday Treats and More, on Dec. 10.

 

She says tickets for that concert start at around $10 which makes it more ‘family friendly’ in terms of price point.

 

“The Tapestry Hall event is a little bit different because a high-end dinner is included,” says Jillian.

 

To learn more, visit Cambridge Symphony Orchestra.

 

 

Holiday Gala

 

The Holiday Gala at Bingemans will feature a buffet consisting of three entrees, a DJ spinning dance tunes, door prizes and bottles of wine can be purchased, as well as drink tickets.

 

“We have a fabulous buffet dinner,” says Spiro, noting that planning began in September.

 

The event begins with cocktails at 6 p.m., followed by dinner at 7 p.m. A late-night snack rounds out the evening. “There’s definitely going to be lots of food. No one will go away hungry,” he jokes.  To learn more, visit Bingemans.

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A ‘ding’ indicating a new text or email has arrived on your cellphone or laptop is often too tempting to ignore for most people, especially when it’s work-related and even if it’s outside of what’s considered regular work hours.

 

The creation of the Working for Workers Act, 2021 aims to change this by requiring employers to develop a policy related to the right for employees to ‘disconnect’ after work, as well outlines prohibition – with a few exceptions - on non-compete agreements. 

 

“Ultimately, it’s about mental health and making sure people can have that perspective on it and companies are supporting those decisions,” says Frank Newman, who operates Cambridge-based Newman Human Resources Consulting. “The end result is a more productive work environment, but we’ve got to change our habits because we’ve gotten so used to emailing or texting late at night.”

 

The new Act requires that as of Jan. 1 of any year, employers with 25 or more employees must have a written policy in place before March 1 of that year with respect to having workers ‘disconnect’ from their jobs. As it stands, employers will need to have a policy prepared by June 2 of this year.

 

“Most will start from scratch and there will be quite a few policies that can be impacted by this,” says Frank, adding employers could begin by examining any current hours of work, or overtime policies they may already have in place.

 

However, he says the process doesn’t have to be a daunting task and should begin with some clear discussion between employers and their employees around expectations, on both sides.

 

“This is a great opportunity to really have an open dialogue with employees and start working on the question of what can you do to increase their performance during office hours, and how do they feel about disengaging,” says Frank, noting it’s hard, especially for those working at home, from keeping close watch on their cellphones or tablets.  “This is not a ‘do or die’ policy that deals with laying off people or increasing wages. This is basically looking at the working environment to see if it’s productive and are employees happy and feeling comfortable after shutting down.”

 

He says many organizations are still trying to find their ‘groove’ in terms of hybrid working arrangements since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, noting there are simple steps they can take to improve productivity when it comes to managing a remote workforce.

 

“For example, look at the way we structure emails. Do you always put ‘urgent’ in the subject line? Do you copy all your co-workers in every email?,” he asks, adding some workplaces have created times during the week where no meetings are scheduled to give employees the chance to work, or encourages them to take breaks. “There is a whole bunch of productivity protocols that companies can look at as part of this. But companies need to be creative with this, otherwise people are just going to fall back into old habits.”

 

For starters, Franks says it’s imperative that companies define what are ‘regular’ working hours and the expectations they have for employees surrounding them. 

 

“But more importantly, it’s about how you define what those expectations are after working hours and during emergencies,” he says, adding this is especially important for companies with offices located in other time zones. “You also have to think about how you contact with people when they are on sick or maternity leaves, again, respecting their right to disengage.”

 

Also, Franks says companies must define if this policy will apply to everyone.

“For example, if you’re vice-president of finance you may not be able to disengage during off hours,” he says. “But obviously, the intent of this is to turn everyone off if you can which is very difficult in this day and age.”

 

In terms of setting up a policy, Frank says it should start with a shift at the management level explaining leaders of the company may have to try and curb themselves from sending emails or messages after hours.

 

“Even if they’re texting or sending emails among themselves at those times, that’s going to filter through the organization,” he says.

 

But ‘disengaging’ is only one aspect of the Act. Another is the banning of non-compete agreements that prevent employees from exploring other opportunities, apart from ‘C-Suite’ executives.

 

“This is a good thing,” says Frank. “But it could be a little challenging for companies because they could lose some of their talent to competitors.”

 

However, he says having a comprehensive policy in place could also become a valuable tool to entice new talent, a bonus considering the ongoing labour shortages in many sectors. 

 

“It’s also a positive way to be able to attract employees because many are looking for more time off and more flexibility,” he says. “Companies can develop these policies as a positive way to say this is our values and this is our work culture. There’s really no risk to this.”

 

However, Frank admits it remains yet to be seen how the Province can enforce this Act, noting it will probably fall under governance of Employment Standards.

“This is going to be a challenge,” he says. “Trying to get the government to respond at the best of times can be a challenge.”

 

For more, visit: https://bit.ly/3qtsMfP

 

 Working for Workers Act at a glance:

  • Require employers with 25 or more employees to have a written policy about employees disconnecting from their job at the end of the workday to help employees spend more time with their families. 
  • Ban the use of non-compete agreements that prevent people from exploring other work opportunities in order to make it easier for workers to advance in their careers. Help remove barriers, such as Canadian experience requirements, for internationally trained individuals to get licenced in a regulated profession and get access to jobs that match their qualifications and skills. 
  • Require recruiters and temporary help agencies to have a licence to operate in the province to help protect vulnerable employees from being exploited. 
  • Require business owners to allow delivery workers to use a company’s washroom if they are delivering or picking up items. This supports the delivery drivers, couriers and truck drivers who have kept our essential supplies and economy going throughout the pandemic. 
  • Allow surpluses in the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board’s Insurance Fund to be distributed over certain levels to businesses, helping them cope with the impacts of COVID-19.  
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The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce is easing its way back into hosting traditional events.

 

After more than 20 months since the pandemic began, the Chamber is set to host its first in-person Business After Hours event on Dec. 13 at Four Fathers Brewing Co. in Hespeler.

 

Chamber President and CEO Greg Durocher says is an important step for the organization.

“It’s a priority for the Chamber to start getting back to in-person events,” he says. “But whether they will be ‘normal’ as we all remember them, that probably won’t happen for some time.”

 

In fact, Greg expects future Chamber events will be of the ‘hybrid’ variation to a certain degree, providing Members the chance to attend in-person or remain in a virtual setting.

 

“That’s going to be for the benefit of everybody,” he says. “But we will certainly provide Members with value in regard to our content the best that we can.”

He says having an in-person Business After Hours event is important to many Chamber Members.

 

“It’s important for people doing business in the community to have an opportunity to meet safely with others face-to-face,” says Greg, noting the importance of following strict safety protocols and restrictions set out in the Province’s Reopening Ontario Act.

 

As a result, participants will not only have to register in advance, but proof of vaccination is required as well as identification that matches that material.

Just like restaurants, the provincial QR code will also be utilized at the event.

 

“Most of our events take place in other venues, such as conference centres, restaurants or meeting rooms that are not ours,” says Greg, noting regulations set out in the Act apply to these locations.

 

As well, the Cambridge Chamber Board of Directors recently passed a mandatory vaccination policy for the Chamber office for staff and visitors arriving for meetings or programs. Those with a valid COVID-19 vaccination exemption, or having valid documentation to present, will be required to take a rapid antigen screening test before entering. These tests will be provided by the Chamber at no cost.  

 

“These are precautionary measures put in place on behalf of the staff because our staff want assurances they are working in a safe environment and we’re doing whatever we can do to make sure that happens,” says Greg, adding like many businesses, the Chamber office is also covered under the Reopening Ontario Act and is entitled to invoke a vaccination policy.

 

Creating a safe environment will also be key at the Business After Hours event which is why the Chamber will provide colour-coded lanyards to participants when they arrive.

 

“Each colour will indicate that person’s comfort level of contact,” says Greg, noting that physical distancing and masks remain important. “Some people are very anxious to get out and meet others in-person, and others are anxious to get out and meet but aren’t quite comfortable enough to do so.”

 

Business After Hours takes place from 5-6:30 p.m. For more, visit https://bit.ly/3pdiUVI

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The pandemic has created new opportunities for many workplaces.

 

The terms ‘hybrid’ and ‘flexible’ have become commonplace as companies and businesses formulate plans for their staff to return to a work environment that’s going to be far different than the one many left when the pandemic first struck in March of last year.

But that return won’t come without its challenges.

 

“We’re seeing a ton of anxiety out there right now as more and more employers start thinking of having people come back to the office,” says Frank Newman, who operates Newman HR. 

 

A survey conducted by KMPG Canada in the spring as vaccinations began to ramp up showed that 81% of Canadian workers were worried their employers and managers were not equipped to handle a return to work properly, and nearly two thirds of those surveyed wanted to go back to their workplaces but COVID-19 remained their core reason for reluctance. In fact, 68% said that working alongside colleagues who may be sick or asymptomatic was a top concern.

 

People have gotten very comfortable and generally quite productive working at home,” says Frank, adding the comforts of home and no commuting have become big draws for many. “I would say people are 90% to 95% as productive as they were working in the office. But clearly, we’re missing some of those creative exchange of ideas that come from sitting next to someone or from random conversations.”

 

In effort to quell the concerns of returning employees, he has been recommending to clients they create an open dialogue with their team to identify their worries or fears.

 

“It’s a little like when an employee returns from a maternity or parental leave. We just assume everything is the same but what we don’t realize is that they have undergone a bit of profound psychological change and I think we kind of had that experience working at home,” says Frank. “Companies have to try and understand what might have happened in employees’ lives while they were away. Some of us may have had loss and some of us may have had catastrophic things happen.”

 

Therefore, he says employers need to create or enhance their Employee Assistance Plans, especially around access to counselling, financial or legal supports – not just health, RRSPs and dental benefits. 

 

“I think more companies have recognized how stressed people have been,” says Frank, noting some employees may be reluctant to access these supports fearing word may spread in the workplace. “These programs are run with the highest sense of ethics in place in terms that nothing gets shared, even with your HR department. There shouldn’t be any fear about utilizing an EAP program if you have one.”

 

As well, he says vaccination policies are a huge concern and appear to be ‘all over the map’ in some workplaces and stressed that whatever stance a company takes regarding its own policy, it should be clearly defined for the employees.

 

“You want to make sure you’re talking about why you’re doing a policy, regardless of what it is because people need to know,” says Frank. “We want to keep people feeling safe at work.”

 

He says optimism appears high right now regarding bringing workers back and expects to see even more people return starting in January.

 

“I’ve got clients in virtually every sector. And the most challenging time right now is in the restaurant and food services industry,” says Frank, explaining vaccination passports and the fact fewer people have been dining out are continuing factors hitting this industry hard.

 

Also, he says workplaces with an office and a production/manufacturing component also may see the natural divide between the two widen since the office workers likely were allowed to work from home during the pandemic.

 

“Companies have to be thoughtful about how they show appreciation to those people who’ve been at the workplace every day,” he says, adding celebrating the return of employees in a positive way would also be beneficial. “I like the idea of giving something tangible, like a gift card perhaps.”

 

Frank says connections must be cultivated as people return to their offices.

 

“What we’ve learned from this whole process is that finding ways to connect with people is so important,” he says.

 

For more information, visit Newman Human Resources or contact Frank Newman at 519.362.8352.

 

Things for employers to consider as outlined by the Harvard Business Review:

 

Do:  

  • Ask - anonymously, if necessary – how people are feeling about returning to the office so you can respond directly to their concerns

  • Allow people to experiment with different ways of working so the shift to in-person or hybrid work doesn’t feel sudden. 

  • Continue to be compassionate — to your team members, and to yourself.

 

Don’t:  

  • Assume people are going to tell you that they’re feeling anxious

  • Neglect to make clear why in-person or hybrid work is beneficial to employees (not just to the company).

  • Make promises you can’t keep, such as assuring people their careers won’t be impacted by working from home or that they can do so indefinitely.

 

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