Does Your Employee Handbook Need an Update?

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A formal, written employee handbook is one of the most important documents in the workplace. Employers should make sure that their handbook is up-to-date and in compliance with all of the legal requirements applicable to them. The handbook should be comprehensive and cover all key policies of the company relating to employees’ conduct, as well as establishing how any infractions will be addressed. At Bridge Legal & HR Solutions, our team of dedicated employment lawyers help our clients understand and update their workplace documents, including handbooks. Get in touch with us today at (647) 794-5442 to discuss a handbook for your organization.

What Should Be Included in a Canadian Employee Handbook?

An employee handbook should be a comprehensive resource for all employees. It should answer any potential questions or concerns your team may have regarding company policies, the code of conduct, compensation, vacation days, sick days, personal time, and discipline procedures. The handbook should also let employees know which superiors they should contact regarding specific issues. The goal of an employee handbook is to set and manage expectations, both for employees and their leaders.

Some elements to consider including in an employee handbook include:

  • Introduction – It is often helpful to open an employee handbook with a clear introduction that outlines what is expected from employees. This section may also welcome new employees to the team and provide a history of the company, along with a summary of its workplace culture, philosophy and any formal mission statement.
  • Legal policies – Employee handbooks often serve a reference function, outlining for all organization personnel the mandatory legal policies for Canadian businesses, such as the Occupational Health and Safety Policy, workplace harassment policy, and workplace violence policy.
  • Compensation and benefits – A comprehensive employee handbook should explain the company’s policies related to salaries, hourly rates, overtime, benefits, and expenses.
  • Time off – The handbook could also include the company’s policies on vacation time, leaves of absence, holidays, sick days, personal days, etc. It is important to make sure that the policies outlined in this section conform to applicable employment laws at the provincial as well as the federal level. Some provinces have passed legislation establishing minimum leave requirements and accommodations in addition to national regulations. For example, Ontario employees whose work is covered by the Ontario Employment Standards Act, 2000 are entitled to leaves of absence in certain circumstances.
  • Employee conduct – This section delineates the employee code of conduct. It is important to establish clear expectations for the conduct of employers and employees alike, and to explain how employees’ conduct will be evaluated. The employee conduct section should also outline the disciplinary measures that may be taken and the company’s procedures for investigating and reviewing alleged infractions. Establishing the code of conduct in the employee handbook helps ensure that all employees are treated fairly and equally.
  • Acknowledgment – It can be helpful to close the handbook with an “acknowledgment” section or form that all employees must sign during the onboarding process, documenting their acceptance of the terms set out in the handbook. Requiring employee signatures means there is a clear record documenting that each employee has been made aware of all expectations related to the organization’s policies and has agreed to abide by the company’s code of conduct.

Why Should You Update Your Employee Handbook?

An employee handbook should be viewed as an evolving document. The nature of employment can change often based on new laws or industry changes. These changes need to be accounted for as soon as possible to keep the employee handbook current. Employers should regularly review their employee handbook and ensure that it is up to date regarding the law and the current state of both the industry and the company.

Failing to regularly update the employee code of conduct can result in consequences for the business. For example:

  • An outdated handbook may not reflect the current state of the company and become irrelevant for both the employer and employees.
  • New policies need to be in writing to hold employees accountable for failing to meet company expectations.
  • Changes in federal or provincial laws could mean the handbook is no longer in compliance with these laws.

When Should I Update My Employee Handbook?

Employee handbooks should be updated any time there are major changes within the company, in the industry, or the law. It is a good idea to regularly review your employee handbook and update it often, rather than waiting until circumstances demand a new policy. However, some of the main events that should result in a major update to the employee handbook include:

  • Legislative changes
  • Expansion of the business into new provinces or localities that may have different laws
  • Major growth of the company, including significant increases in the number of employees
  • Changes in the scope of the business, such as expanding into new industries or incorporating new services
  • Major cultural changes, such as the shift towards more remote jobs due to the pandemic
  • Changes in the values, mission, or culture of the company
  • New leadership

Generally, it is a good rule to review your employee handbook at least once per year to make sure it is up to date in these facets and any other relevant categories.

Changes in the Ontario Employment Standards Act, 2000

The importance of regularly updating an employee handbook is illustrated by changes implemented by the provincial government of Ontario in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The provincial government changed certain aspects of the Employment Standards Act, 2000 in light of the pandemic.

Some of these key changes included:

  • Businesses with at least 25 employees were required to provide a written policy on electronic monitoring to all employees. This policy is required to state when and how employees might be monitored, how the information obtained through this monitoring might be used, and the date changes were made to the policy.
  • Employers with 25 or more employees were required to provide a written policy on disconnecting from work.

How Do I Update My Employee Handbook?

The exact update process will vary depending on the specific needs of the business, recent internal changes, new laws, and other factors. Here are some steps Canadian businesses may wish to consider following these steps when updating their employee handbooks:

  • Review the handbook throughout the year and note where updates are needed.
  • Make sure nothing important is missing.
  • Evaluate the conciseness of the handbook and make sure it is written clearly.
  • Ensure that the handbook complies with all relevant employment laws.
  • Make all necessary updates after following these steps.
  • Consider visiting with an experienced human resources advisor, such as our dedicated team at Bridge Legal & HR Solutions.
  • Publish the handbook and re-issue it to everyone in the company.

Contact Our Legal Team to Learn More

For Canadian businesses, regular updates to the employee code of conduct are vital to maintaining a well-run business. However, keeping these policies legally compliant can be complicated due to numerous complex variables. Contact the experienced team at Bridge Legal & HR Solutions today by calling (647) 794-5442 and learn more about how we can help your business ensure your employee code of conduct is in compliance with the law.

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