It’s 2018: Here are Three Workplace Policies That Businesses Should Revisit (or Implement)

January 26, 2018

1. Workplace Safety

If it wasn’t already clear, the wave of allegations that have had swept through the film industry and political sphere have demonstrated that sexual harassment and assault is a serious and prevalent workplace problem in our society.

Under occupational health and safety legislation, it is the responsibility of the employer to furnish a safe workplace for its employees. Within the context of sexual harassment and assault comes the obligation to promote prevention measures, responsibly investigate complaints and implement appropriate measures to ensure the workplace safety of survivors. Aside from being the right thing, a failure to do so can lead to serious legal and public relation liabilities.

If you haven’t done so recently, now is time to check and ensure that you and your employees have the right policies, training and resources in place to protect against and properly deal with these situations.

2. Drugs and Alcohol

Legalization of non-medical marijuana is scheduled to take effect across Canada on July 1, 2018. While the exact impact of this change on workplaces remains to be seen, I’m certainly prepared to go out on a limb and guess that a majority of otherwise responsible adults will continue to respect the obligation to arrive at work free from the effects of marijuana, just as they have always respected workplace rules prohibiting other technically legal activity, such as consumption of alcohol or wearing socks with sandals.

However, to the extent that use of marijuana in the workplace does increase, employers will generally have legitimate safety concerns. These concerns are exacerbated by the fact that, unlike alcohol, effective real-time testing for a marijuana “high” is not available to catch those suspected to be under the influence.

With that said, there are practical steps that employers can take to be ready for legal marijuana. A fundamental first step, again, is to take a look at your policies and training and make sure they cover expectations, investigations, and discipline pertaining to drugs and alcohol. That way, both employees and management will understand the rules going into July. To this end, if your workplace policy only prohibits “illegal drugs”, this may need to be amended to reflect the legalization of marijuana.

3. Accessibility / Accommodation

As the federal government continues to work in its own legislation, on September 18, 2017, Nova Scotia’s Accessibility Act came into effect, with the stated goal of creating an accessible Nova Scotia by 2030.

Currently, this legislation requires all public sector bodies to prepare and make available an “accessibility plan” within one year (i.e. by September 18, 2018). This plan is required to, among other things, identify measures undertaken to remove barriers for individuals with disabilities and must be prepared with input from those with disabilities.

Much of the standards and expectations of the legislation, however, remain to be defined. To this end, also by September 18, 2018, the Minister of Justice is required to adopt an implementation strategy setting out how an accessible Nova Scotia will be achieved by 2030, which should set a framework for standards to be implemented going forward.

It would not be surprising to see a rollout over time of more specific and robust standards applicable not just to the public sector, but those in the private sector as well. This would be similar to what has unfolded under Ontario’s accessibility legislation, which has gradually required private business to adopt accessibility plans, training and other specific measures. Indeed, the Nova Scotia Accessibility Act contemplates that accessibility standards may be prescribed for any organization that employs others, or provides goods, services or information to the public.

In any event, given the current obligation of businesses under human rights legislation not to discriminate against individuals with disabilities, now is a prudent time for businesses to get ahead of the curve and start thinking about more robust accessibility and accommodation policies, both for their employees and the people who access their products and services.

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Cox & Palmer publications are intended to provide information of a general nature only and not legal advice. The information presented is current to the date of publication and may be subject to change following the publication date.