Workplace policies are decisive in the creation and maintenance of healthy, productive, and legally compliant work environments. Learning how to implement these policies is essential for both employers and employees located in Ontario. This article will analyze the significance of workplace policies in this province. The focus will be on key policies such as policies related to dress code, workplace violence and harassment, working hours, breaks, leave policies, pay equity, occupational health and safety, and performance standards and expectations. 

Why Workplace Policies Matter  

Provincial workplace policies outline the rights and responsibilities of both employers and employees, providing a clear map of behavior. Following such a map is important for legal reasons (Ontario’s employment law mandates compliance with many of these policies), but beyond that, it can contribute to the creation of work environments in which the well-being of employees is improved, organizational processes are carefully followed, and productivity is increased. Violations of workplace policies can lead to employment relationship and legal repercussions. 

Workplace Policies in Ontario 

The following are the main workplace policies in Ontario:  

  • Dress Code and Appearance Policies in Ontario 
  • Workplace Violence and Harassment Policy 
  • Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) and hazard-specific policies 
  • Working Hours, Breaks, and Leave Policies 
  • Pay Equity 
  • performance standards and expectations

Dress Code and Appearance Policies in Ontario 

Dress code policies are intended to set expectations related to keeping professional image and appearances in the workplace. However, these policies have legal limits. While employers have the right to establish their guidelines, the corresponding policies must not infringe on individual human rights.  Dress code policies must be free from discrimination and should respect religious or cultural backgrounds. To ensure compliance with Ontario’s Human Rights Code protections related to sex and gender, organizations should follow this checklist for their dress codes and uniform policies.

These guidelines recommend offering a variety of dress options for all front-of-house staff, avoiding sexualized or gender-stereotypical clothing requirements, providing equal clothing choices regardless of sex or gender, offering a range of uniform sizes to fit various body types, making all dress code options readily available, avoiding gender-based grooming rules, permitting diverse hairstyles unless essential for the job, refraining from asking applicants about uniform preferences until after offering employment, establishing processes for accommodation requests and complaints, and ensuring transparent communication of these policies to all employees. 

Workplace Violence and Harassment Policy 

Preventing and addressing violence and harassment in any workplace is of high importance. The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) mandates employers to create programs to combat workplace violence and to develop respective policies as well as to implement such programs. Employers are obliged to create measures and procedures for controlling risks identified in the assessment of risks and to summon immediate assistance when workplace violence occurs or is likely to occur. Workers are mandated for their part to report incidents of workplace violence. It is important to note that the OHSA encompasses not only sexual harassment but also a broader spectrum of workplace violence and forms of harassment.  

Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) and hazard-specific policies 

WHMIS is Canada’s paramount standard for disseminating crucial information about hazardous substances employed within various workplace environments. It requires employers to clearly label hazardous materials, furnish Safety Data Sheets (SDS) containing comprehensive information regarding their potential risks and safe handling procedures, and conduct thorough training sessions for employees to ensure secure handling of these substances. Employers must ensure that employees are aware of the potential hazards associated with specific materials. Ensuring access to safety labels and providing training enables employees to safely handle hazardous materials.  

WHMIS is Canada’s national standard for providing information on hazardous materials used in the workplace. Employers are required to have WHMIS policies in place, ensuring that employees are aware of the potential hazards associated with specific materials and that they have access to necessary safety labels, training …. 

Working Hours, Breaks, and Leave Policies in Ontario 

The province of Ontario regulates working hours, breaks, and leaves of absence through the Employment Standards Act (ESA, 2000).  

The ESA provides employees with a daily limit of eight hours of work, or the number of hours in their established regular workday if it’s longer. This limit can only be exceeded with a written or electronic agreement between the employee and employer. The weekly limit is 48 hours, which can also be exceeded with such an agreement.  

Likewise, employees are entitled by the ESA to at least 11 consecutive hours off work each day. On a weekly basis, they must have either 24 consecutive hours off work in each work week, or 48 consecutive hours off work in every two consecutive work weeks.  

This ESA also provides various unpaid types of leaves, such as sick leave, parental leave, and vacation time. The terms and entitlements for leaves of absence in Ontario vary depending on the type of leave. The ESA outlines rights and responsibilities for employers when employees return to work after a leave of absence.  

Compliance with the ESA is mandatory and contributes to the well-being of employees. 

Pay Equity 

Pay equity is a fundamental principle according to which employees must be compensated fairly, regardless of gender. In Ontario, this principle is enforced by the provisions outlined by both the Pay Equity Act (PEA) and the ESA. The PEA requires employers to evaluate the compensation and the value of work carried out by employees, regardless of gender, within their organization. Simultaneously, it sets forth a structured process for scrutinizing pay equity within the organization. The ESA ensures that employers cannot pay one employee less than another of the opposite sex for the same job, requiring similar skill, effort, responsibility, and working conditions. This is known as “equal pay for equal work.” 

Occupational Health and Safety Policy 

The creation of a safe work environment is a legal and moral duty. Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) aims to create a legal framework aimed at safeguarding workers from health and safety risks in the workplace. It achieves this by: 

  • Defining responsibilities for all parties in the workplace and granting rights to workers. 
  • Establishing protocols and procedures for addressing hazards within the workplace. 
  • Allowing for enforcement of the law in cases where compliance is not achieved voluntarily. 

Performance Standards and Expectations in Ontario 

Corporative policies and programs may also establish performance standards and expectations. Such policies generally describe job responsibilities, expose performance metrics, and contain evaluation criteria. As in the case of dress code, compliance with provincial laws is required. Employees must guarantee the respect of rights outlined in Ontario’s Employment Standards Act. 

Corporate policies and programs, such as the Ministry of Labour’s Employment Standards Program, may also establish performance standards and set clear expectations for employees. Policies and programs typically outline job responsibilities, specify performance metrics, and establish evaluation criteria. Just like adhering to a dress code, compliance with provincial laws is mandatory. 

In Ontario, key standards are governed by the Employment Standards Act (ESA). The ESA outlines the minimum requirements for employment that pertain to the essential responsibilities of employers. Another relevant framework is the Employment Standards (ES) Program’s Compliance Strategy. It represents a holistic framework aimed at fostering a culture of compliance. It centers around four key pillars: awareness, proactive measures, reactive Measures, and enforcement. 

Such strategy delineates the ES Program’s methodology in these crucial domains, elucidating their significance and demonstrating how they synergize to establish and perpetuate a culture of compliance. Its overarching goal is to enhance transparency, bolster accountability, and ensure unwavering consistency. It is aimed to promote and enforce ESA.  

Tailored Solutions for Your Organization in Ontario 

We know that every organization is unique, and its workplace policies must be designed to reflect its culture, industry, workforce, and particular practices. However, the corresponding policies must align with the applicable provincial and federal laws and regulations. We recommend consulting with legal professionals specialized in Ontario’s employment laws to ensure that your policies are comprehensive, up-to-date, and compliant with all relevant legislation. 

Here at Roberts & Obradovic we are committed to providing you with legal advice and representation. Our lawyers are experienced in provincial employment law and workplace policies. We regularly counsel clients on policy design legal issues and represent institutions and individuals in disputes or litigation related to compliance with workplace policies.   

When it comes to creating workplace policies that empower your organization and protect your employees, Roberts & Obradovic Law Firm is your trusted partner. Our team of skilled Employment Lawyers is here to provide expert guidance and support tailored to your unique needs. Reach out to us at (647) 724-5179 or complete our contact form. We offer a free consultation with one of our experienced lawyers specializing in workplace policies.