Labour and employment law in Canada is about to undergo some significant changes, perhaps some of the biggest we’ve seen in decades including the legalization of marijuana, updates to medical marijuana requirements, and overhauls to the Alberta Employment Standards Code and Labour Relations Code.

Among other things, this means employers are updating and redesigning their workplace policies.  If you’re working through these changes, here are some principles to keep in mind.

#1:  Policies are about rules.  (Sort of.)

Your policies set the direction or guiding principles of your organization.  They outline the behaviours you want to maximize as well as minimize.  But at the very core, they also ensure that you meet all the applicable statutory and professional requirements that apply to your workplace. 

Bare minimum, make sure your policies comply with all applicable laws, codes and professional requirements.  Your friendly labour/employment lawyers at Brownlee LLP are happy to help.  And then, make sure you actually use them!

#2: Policies are about MORE than rules.

Of course your policies establish the “rules” for your workplace.  But policies also have a significant impact on your workplace culture too.  Consider the tone of your policy and the impact it might have:  “There shall be no personal use of email or the Internet during work hours” versus “Use of email and Internet is to enhance your productivity, not detract from it”.

Both can actually result in the same outcome but the two statements have a very different impact on how your employees feel about your company’s position, and how your company achieves compliance with its policy.  Both statements influence employee engagement.

Also consider whether your policy reflects how you actually want your organization to handle issues.  If you feel the tone of your policy and your actual experience result in different sentiments, then something is off.  You may need adjust the language of your policy, how your staff apply it or both.  Similarly, if you find that policies end up in a dusty binder, then something is off.  An effective policy becomes part of your day-to-day work life.

In the end, sometimes, it’s not what you say but how you say it.  Policies do more than set rules – they influence culture.  Make sure your policies accurately reflect your desired culture.

#3:  Now is a great time for policy renovation.

Since you’re already mucking around with legislative change and cultural congruence, you might as well fix all the other things that bug you about your existing playbook.  If you’ve never liked how you onboard new employees, change it!  If you’ve never had a system for assigning corporate vehicles, make a plan to build one.  There’s no time like the present.

If you’re overhauling your policies or implementing new ones, here are some great refreshers on the difference between policies, procedures and processes, and who in your organization should craft them:

However you approach it, consider including your labour/employment lawyer on that policy team.  Your trusty lawyer can validate legal compliance, guide you on what they’ve seen work well (or not!) in other organizations, and provide you with recommendations on how to effectively implement new policies mid-employment.  And best yet, we are often in a position to help you create efficiency or even save money in your organization.