Skip to main content

HR legal landmines - learn what they are and how to avoid them

  • 4 min read

As an employer, there are legal realities involved with human resources (HR) and people management. Knowing the potential pitfalls and how to avoid exposure to legal problems is just as important as any of the other topics covered in this series.

Even if you’ve never had a legal issue with employees, employers must know and comply with HR laws. If you are not willing or able to take charge on this front, there must be an HR team lead, professional or service to oversee compliance and take on this responsibility.

No matter how hard you try to prevent conflict, sometimes it happens.

No matter how hard you try to prevent conflict, sometimes it happens. And nothing eats into productivity more than a protracted lawsuit due to an improper dismissal or other violation of HR law. The stakes are high, so understanding the rules and following them is essential.

Any HR plan should include a written description of anything that could leave an employer exposed to legal action. This means maintaining the proper documentation and following a simple step-by-step guide for different human resources-related tasks.

Consider working with an HR advisor or lawyer to create a checklist to help get through important HR-related tasks without making a mistake or forgetting an important step.

Review current HR processes

It helps to break legal exposure into the following areas:

  1. Employee benefits and compensation
  2. Health and safety
  3. Paid leave, sick days and holiday entitlements
  4. Discrimination and harassment
  5. Confidentiality
  6. Employee labour rights
  7. Hiring and termination processes

Using the seven categories listed above enables a review of current legal compliance efforts and is a starting point for building a comprehensive compliance strategy. There are regulations and laws that apply to each of these categories and exist to protect the employer and employee. The laws may be different by province, but you can apply some overarching principles. 

Process and documentation provide protection

Job descriptions need to be in place for all employees. They should be detailed and up to date. If an employee’s job has evolved, the written job description should be changed to match the current responsibilities. If there is disagreement or concerns about employee performance or behaviour, reviewing the job description is the first step for everyone involved. It’s also advisable to have a comprehensive employee handbook that clearly sets out expectations for behaviour and a code of conduct. The handbook should indicate the process if performance or conduct falls below prescribed standards.

Follow these steps when firing an employee

Terminating an employee can be unpleasant and stressful, but if you hire employees, you’ll eventually need to fire employees. It can also lead to legal issues if not done properly. The following practices provide a basic guide. Know the specific rules for your province and business type.

  • Never fire an employee in a moment of anger or emotion
  • Before terminating an employee, you must prove you provided written warnings and ongoing feedback and that the employee was allowed to correct the problem.
  • Document any discussions with the employee regarding performance issues
  • Have another person present when terminating an employee to take notes
  • Be clear about the reasons for termination and mention the warnings and opportunity to improve
  • Provide all owing salary, commission and vacation pay at the termination meeting
  • Have the appropriate severance pay calculated and explain how it was determined
  • If things get heated, stay calm and record the points made by the employee
  • Don’t discuss the termination or disparage the employee to the team after dismissal

Get help if you need it

For employers and farm managers looking for training on HR laws and compliance, the Canadian Agricultural Human Resources Council (CAHRC) offers an agricultural HR Toolkit that includes training on legal compliance for employers.

It’s also helpful to work with a lawyer with HR expertise or advisor. They can help draft employee handbook content and a checklist of actions to follow for specific HR-related actions. They can also create a consistent and compliant plan for benefits, hiring and firing, severance packages and other HR actions.

For a small operation with few employees, getting help to create a plan that complies with all the regulations might be all that’s required. It may be worth finding an HR professional who can be accessed whenever a potential issue arises for larger operations with numerous employees.

Bottom line – HR compliance is mandatory. Every employer needs to find a way to hit this target, whether by getting the training themselves, hiring an employee to oversee HR or working with professional advisors.