Attendance and Disability Management
We are experienced in advising clients and helping them develop policies to manage absenteeism and short- and long-term disability.
We regularly advise employers on such matters as: handling an employee with a record of excessive absenteeism; the employer’s obligations to an employee on short-term or long-term disability; accommodating an employee who has a disability or is returning to work following an injury; requesting medical information from an employee without contravening any common law, collective agreement, or legislative requirements; the appropriate way to deal with employees who fail to comply with requests for medical information; and when it is appropriate, following a lengthy absence, to consider termination of employment due to frustration of contract.
Depth of experience in collective bargaining is one of the firm’s greatest strengths. We regularly negotiate first collective agreements and renewals in both the public and private sectors. We draft language that is clear and practical and that is unlikely to result in arbitral challenge. We are also experienced in advising employers on how to interpret and apply their collective agreements.
Whether acting as spokesperson at the bargaining table, or ‘behind-the-scenes’ advisor, our lawyers help employers achieve their bargaining goals and mandates while minimizing the risk of a labour disruption.
In the rare instance of an actual or threatened strike or lock-out, we are experts in strike contingency planning and can guide employers through this challenging period. Whether seeking injunctive relief, negotiating strike protocols and return-to-work agreements, or participating in mediation to resolve the outstanding impasse issues, we will ensure a legal support team is available around the clock to help employers bring their negotiations to a successful conclusion.
We are experienced in advising clients with respect to data breach response (often called acting as a “Breach Coach”) and representing clients before Canadian data protection regulators including regulatory filings.
Our data breach philosophy is proactive and preventative. To that end, we help our clients prepare breach response plans, which includes advising clients as to their legal obligations in the case of a breach and training the necessary staff. In the unfortunate circumstance of a significant data breach or cyber-attack, we also assist clients in investigating and remediating breaches; reporting to regulators; breach notification; and evaluating litigation risks and options as well as the provision of day-to-day crisis management advice. We also act with respect to selection and oversight of appropriate vendors (cyber security, data mining and recovery, crisis management firms) and have developed strong connections with professionals in these areas, which are important for mitigation post incident.
Discipline, Discharge and Terminations
We regularly advise clients on their rights and obligations with respect to discipline and discharge. We review appropriate approaches to various disciplinary offences and provide supervisors and managers with the basic tools to ensure that disciplinary action can be successfully defended before administrative tribunals or the courts.
Consistent with our goal of problem prevention and practical solutions, we typically speak to our clients before they terminate an employee's employment so that the organization's legal and financial exposure is minimized.
We are also regularly involved in negotiating severance packages following employment terminations. Our in-house “wrongful dismissal” databases enable us to research common law notice periods in a timely and cost-effective manner. We are often successful in reaching mutually agreeable severance agreements on behalf of our clients without resorting to litigation.
We provide advice relating to employee benefits. We also help employers design and administer their benefit plans, taking into account the impact of ongoing changes in pension and human rights legislation. Issues relating to employee benefits often arise in arbitration proceedings and other forms of litigation.
Employee and Management Training
As a specialized labour and employment law firm, we are able to provide management and supervisory training to clients on topics such as recruitment, workplace harassment, attendance and performance management, wrongful dismissal, occupational health and safety, human rights and accommodation, disability and AODA compliance, and workplace privacy.
Our firm can offer both in-person training and webinars. Further, we can provide our clients with legislative updates, within days, and often hours, of the introduction of any new workplace legislation.
Employers are increasingly looking to employment contracts to clearly and transparently define the terms of employment with their non-union employees, especially those in executive and senior management positions. In recent years, the law surrounding the enforceability of severance provisions has become more complex and uncertain. Our lawyers stay abreast of this ever-changing area of the law and regularly help both private and public sector employers draft appropriate employment contracts that maximize clarity and enforceability.
Employment Policies and Practices
We routinely provide opinions on legal and strategic issues relating to the introduction and implementation of all manner of workplace practices and policies. This includes reviewing, designing and/or drafting policies dealing with such matters as layoffs and terminations, harassment, Human Rights Code issues and obligations, early retirement, attendance management, accommodation, drug and alcohol testing, and employment equity
As all members of our firm are extremely familiar with the Employment Standards Act, 2000, we can provide instant, helpful responses on many ESA issues.
We help employers understand the requirements of the Act – whether they are negotiating collective agreements, drafting employment contracts, or restructuring their operations. We also handle complaints, including those that arise through the Act itself, through grievances, or through wrongful dismissal actions.
Grievance and Interest Arbitration
Representing clients at arbitration, including for discipline and discharge grievances, is a large part of our practice. We have developed a strong reputation as outstanding advocates, and we have been counsel in many cases that have resulted in precedent-setting decisions.
Many of our lawyers have also appeared as counsel in interest arbitration proceedings in the broader public sector, and many of the firm's partners have acted as employer nominees on rights and interest arbitration panels.
Human Rights Matters
This area of the law is constantly evolving, with employers increasingly feeling the impact of the duty to accommodate and to address systemic discrimination.
We regularly advise clients on human rights issues and deal with human rights applications. This includes drafting responses and submissions, participating in mediations, and acting as counsel before the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.
We also work with clients to develop and/or review proactive measures, policies and procedures that will reduce employer vulnerability to complaints, while achieving compliance with the legislation in a realistic and appropriate manner.
Our lawyers regularly investigate workplace complaints and help guide our clients through internal investigations. When not acting as lead investigators, we regularly liaise with other external investigators, either retained by us or by our clients, to ensure a complete and fair investigation.
As lawyers, we have an advantage over non-legal professionals. As litigators, we have a unique ability to assess and weigh evidence, and as regular participants in mediation processes, we understand the dynamics of a successful negotiation process.
In some cases, we help clients conduct their own internal investigations. In these instances, this may include training for the investigator, formulating questions, identifying witnesses, and helping prepare reports and recommendations.
Labour Board Representation
Representing employers before the Ontario Labour Relations Board and the Canada Industrial Relations Board is at the core of what we do. We are well versed in both Boards' practices and procedures, and we can effectively steer employers through this complex area of labour relations.
Our expertise includes unfair labour practices, cease & desist applications for illegal work stoppages, related employer and successor rights applications, union certification applications and status disputes, and OHSA reprisal allegations.
Occupational Health & Safety
Occupational health and safety issues can, and do, arise in any type of workplace. We believe that a proactive approach to legislative compliance is best.
In addition to advising clients on how to mitigate health and safety risks, if a critical injury, accident or other safety issue does occur in the workplace, we have the experience necessary to fully represent clients. This includes advising from the time of the occurrence, throughout the Ministry of Labour's investigations, and in court defending any Occupational Health and Safety Act prosecutions.
In recent years, maintaining pay equity has been a particular challenge for public sector clients, primarily as a result of amalgamation and public sector wage restraint.
All of our lawyers are very familiar with the Pay Equity Act. We regularly provide advice and representation to employers on pay equity matters and have assisted many employers in developing pay equity plans to achieve and maintain pay equity. We have also appeared before the Pay Equity Hearings Tribunal on many occasions.
We are experienced and equipped to address pension and benefit issues that may arise in grievances, arbitrations and otherwise. We have often represented employers in cases involving various employee insurance and benefit plans.
Privacy/Freedom of Information
Our expertise in the areas of privacy and freedom of information is particularly strong. We regularly advise clients with respect to the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, the Personal Health Information Protection Act, and other privacy statutes. We also help clients prepare policies and procedures with respect to the collection, use and disclosure of information. As well, for many years, the firm has authored the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act: Quick Reference.
Privacy matters are increasingly becoming the subject of employment dispute litigation. We have litigated privacy disputes concerning such varied matters as surveillance, the use of GPS, the use of biometric technology, the disclosure of harassment investigation reports, and other issues relating to the issue of employees’ reasonable expectation of privacy in the workplace.
We have also represented and advised many clients with respect to access to information requests in the course of highly publicized and politically sensitive litigation.
Purchase & Sale/Corporate Restructuring
We advise clients on all labour and employment aspects related to sales, transfers, amalgamations and corporate restructurings. We work strategically with our clients to minimize labour and employment costs, including the cost of litigation, and to reduce the negative impact on employees. At the same time, we work to ensure the organization achieves its goals.
Our experience includes: negotiating with unions regarding representation rights and any necessary amendments to the collective agreement resulting from the sale; merging various collective agreements; merging employee groups; harmonizing compensation structures in a cost-effective manner; meeting legislative requirements and developing strategies for compliance with legislation; meeting pay equity maintenance requirements; dealing with employee hiring and termination issues; and strategies for effective employee communications, to update staff regarding the transfer and maintain employee morale.
Union Certification and Decertification
Where a union applies for certification, we have a track record of preparing strong responses within the strict time limits imposed by the Labour Relations Act, 1995. With our involvement from the initial stages of an organizing campaign, many of our clients have been successful in defending against applications for certification. We are also experienced in assessing which objections may be worthwhile and arguing those objections before the Ontario Labour Relations Board.
Workplace Safety & Insurance
We help clients navigate Ontario’s sometimes-complex workers compensation system and manage their employees' work-related absences and injuries. We are regularly involved in workplace safety and insurance issues, including representing employers before the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board and the Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal.
Wrongful Dismissal and Other Civil Litigation
We have extensive experience representing employers in all aspects of wrongful dismissal litigation. This includes drafting pleadings, negotiating settlements at mediation and, when necessary, acting as effective and formidable trial and appellate counsel.
Our experience representing employers before federal and Ontario courts is wide-ranging and includes frequent appearances before the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, the Divisional Court and the Ontario Court of Appeal. Judicial review applications, health & safety appeals, labour dispute injunctions to restrain unlawful picketing activity, and litigation arising from the enforcement of restrictive covenants and departing employee obligations are all a regular part of our firm’s practice.
When cost effective and in a client’s best interest, we encourage parties to avoid formal litigation in favour of employing Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) processes. As labour law practitioners, we are adept and skilled in the ADR tools of negotiation, conciliation, mediation and arbitration.