Toronto Employment Lawyer Drafting Contracts, Severance Packages, and Workplace Policies
Transparency concerning internal practices and employee expectations is vital to maintaining a cohesive and functional workplace. Clear, unambiguous, legally compliant policies, contracts, and other workplace documents prevent misunderstandings and help employers minimize conflicts with employees.
Haynes Law Firm works with employers to oversee, review, and develop workplace policies, contracts, and other agreements with the goal of shielding employer clients from legal risk. The firm develops long-term relationships with employers, often acting in place of or alongside an organization’s in-house counsel to provide proactive advice and risk management strategies.
Employment Agreements, Documents and Policies Designed to Mitigate Risk for Employers
Paulette Haynes, seasoned Toronto employment lawyer and the founder of Haynes Law Firm, has considerable experience in conflict management, policy creation, and contract drafting. In addition to practicing exclusively in labour and employment law since 1994, she is also a respected legal studies professor, teaching courses in contract law, business communications, and corporate responsibility. Paulette works alongside her employer clients to keep them aware of changes in the law and ensure their policies and contracts are compliant and up to date to prevent disputes before they can start.
Employment Contract Drafting and Review
Employment contracts are the backbone of the employer-employee relationship, setting out the rights, responsibilities, and obligations of each party for everything from working hours, compensation, vacation entitlements, and rights upon termination. Employment contracts must be carefully constructed to ensure they meet employer obligations under the law and set out the terms of the employment relationship with absolute clarity from day one. If an employment contract is drafted poorly, with ambiguous terms, or terms that contradict the relevant employment legislation, an employer may be vulnerable to costly legal claims.
From an employer’s perspective, employment contracts should address the following issues:
- There should be a clear termination clause, setting out the employee’s notice entitlements. This clause must offer notice that complies with the requirements provided for the Employment Standards Act, at a minimum.
- The termination clause should address compensation in lieu of notice, including non-salary compensation, such as bonuses, commissions, and stock options.
- Terms relating to the job description, location, or other elements of the role which could be subject to variation should contain flexible language to allow for slight changes without triggering a potential constructive dismissal If the potential for change is significant, this should be outlined in the contract. For example, if there are plans to relocate to a new facility in the future, this should be noted.
A well-drafted employment contract will be clear in its terms, compliant with the law, and will be able to withstand judicial scrutiny should it be challenged by the employee. Too often, employers rely on poorly drafted contracts and termination documents without taking the time to review and update them regularly to reflect changes in the law, leading to unnecessary and avoidable disputes with employees.
Haynes Law Firm in Toronto regularly assists employers to create custom employment contracts that are designed to minimize the risk of future litigation. The firm also routinely reviews employment agreements to ensure they’re up-to-date, compliant with all applicable legislation and amended as required per any changes to the law.
Termination Package Drafting and Review
When terminating an employee without cause, employers need to ensure the termination package sufficiently addresses the employee’s entitlements in terms of benefits, notice, and compensation, including termination and severance pay, if applicable. Claims for wrongful dismissal, one of the most common employee/employer disputes, are less about the employer’s right to terminate the employee, and more about the notice and/or compensation provided to the employee at the time of termination. If the package offered is inadequate, this can result in drawn-out litigation and a costly judgment in favour of the employee.
The best way to avoid this scenario is to ensure all termination packages are compliant with the law and contain clear terms and little room for ambiguity or misinterpretation. In addition, employers must be mindful that the termination package properly reflects any related terms or clauses contained in the employment contract.
Workplace Policy Compliance
Ontario employers are also required by law to create and implement certain policies, such as:
- Pay Equity Plan: The Pay Equity Act requires employers to conduct a skills-based assessment of jobs performed primarily by female employees and jobs performed primarily by male employees. The plan should set out the method used to compare the roles, and any plan for pay adjustments if needed. The Pay Equity Act applies to Ontario employers with at least 10 employees.
- Accessibility Policy: An accessibility policy should outline the measures taken by the employer to ensure compliance under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. These policies must be documented for employers with at least 49 employees, but all employers should document their accessibility policy to ensure all parties are aware of their responsibilities and the procedure for reporting complaints if necessary.
- Occupational Health and Safety Policy: Employers with at least 5 employees must create a policy outlining the employer’s commitment to workplace safety, as well as setting out the responsibilities under the policy and to whom they apply.
- Workplace Violence and Harassment Policy: Ontario employers are required to create a policy addressing workplace violence and harassment under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. The policy should outline the responsibilities of the various parties in the workplace when it comes to violence and harassment, as well as the procedure for reporting and investigating incidents.
Haynes Law Firm protects employers from potential liability by creating custom policies to keep employers compliant under the law. For these legislatively mandated policies, there is also often a requirement to review the existing policies on a regular schedule and update them as needed. The firm also regularly informs clients of upcoming changes to the law well in advance, so employers can prepare and implement changes ahead of schedule. For employers with policies already in place, the firm will review and advise on changes to existing policies, to provide better clarity or address any potential areas in which a policy may be lacking.
In addition to mandated policies, it is beneficial to set out expectations in writing around a variety of issues relating to employee responsibilities, including:
- Dress code;
- The use of intoxicants in the workplace, including cannabis;
- Social media use;
- Data security & protection; and
- Employee accommodations for disabilities.
By providing employees with clear guidelines on these issues, as well as outlining the repercussions for violating their obligations, employers can pre-emptively avoid the conflict that often results when expectations are not clear.
For Assistance Drafting or Reviewing Employment Policies, Contracts or Severance Packages, Contact Haynes Law Firm in Toronto
For employers, compliance with legislative obligations is key to avoiding costly conflicts with employees. Legal obligations are imposed from a variety of sources, such as legislation and regulations, case law, and evolving best practices. The law changes rapidly and often, creating a challenge for employers to keep up with their responsibilities and ensure they are protected from liability.
Haynes Law Firm remains at the forefront of employer obligations, to ensure employers are prepared for incoming changes well in advance. The firm will flag potential issues to address under incoming changes to employment and labour legislation and will react quickly to adjust client policies in response to changes in the common law. The firm will also review and revise existing policies, contracts, and other employment documentation to reflect changes in the law and minimize the employer’s exposure to risk. Haynes Law Firm keeps employers ahead of the changes rather than scrambling to keep up. To discuss how the team at Haynes Law Firm can assist you, please reach out online, or by phone at 416-593-2731.