Duties and Responsibilities of Employers
by Tracey Yan, SCSBC Director of Finance ◊
As the world’s economy dealt with the covid-19 pandemic over the last six months, one of the key learning points for businesses has been to fully understand their duties and responsibilities as employers. When staff are hired, employers obviously want them to work hard and earn profits for the business, but employers must also understand their legal obligations towards those employees.
In particular, the pandemic has highlighted the obligation of employers to provide a safe and healthy working environment, and their duty to accommodate employees with certain health or family situations so that they are able to continue participating in the workplace. Let’s look at each of these in more detail.
Health and Safety Obligations
Every employee has the right to a safe and healthy workplace, and employers are responsible for providing this by having an effective occupational health and safety program in place. The program should identify and control potential workplace hazards, help prevent injuries and disease, and promote a positive health and safety culture by having proper processes and policies in place. Safe work procedures, adequate training, and clear reporting processes all contribute to an environment where employees feel safe and secure.
Schools should especially be aware of the necessity to have a joint health and safety committee in place if they have more than 20 employees. The joint committee brings together employer and worker representatives to identify and help resolve any health and safety matters in the workplace. Schools with fewer employees can have a single worker health and safety representative.
WorkSafeBC provides some excellent resources on its website which can help schools ensure they have all the necessary pieces of their health and safety program in place. Boards and finance committees should verify that schools are following through on these requirements as part of their risk mitigation responsibilities.
Duty to Accommodate
In some circumstances, employers have an obligation to adjust policies or practices to allow their employees to fully participate in the workplace. The most common situations schools encounter are accommodations for physical and mental health issues, gender and family status. If a school has a staff member with a disabling condition or certain family obligations (such as pregnancy, child care, elder care, etc.), then the school must consider what can be done to maintain the employment relationship before terminating the employee. Accommodations might include modified work hours or roles, adjustments to the work processes, working from home, or temporary leave.
Accommodation is a two-way street: employees must provide medical information, participate in the discussion, be open to ways their needs can be accommodated, and stay in touch with employers while they are away from the workplace. Accommodation is also not unlimited – if employers would experience undue hardship because of the changes, then their duty may be fulfilled. Inconvenience or some extra expenses are not considered undue hardship, but significant costs and program disruptions may qualify. Schools are encouraged to exercise extreme care in terminating employees in these circumstances, and to consult with legal counsel before proceeding, because of the human rights issues that may be triggered.
Being an employer in today’s world is a complex responsibility. As schools grow larger, effective support and management of human resources becomes even more important and knowing your obligations as an employer is the key first step. When school staff feel safe and secure, and their needs are addressed in a consultative way, they will hopefully be more committed to the school, help foster a healthy workplace culture, and be more flexible to meet school programming needs. The end result will be better outcomes for students, families, staff, and the school as a whole.
Resources for Employers
The BC Employment Standards Act is a key starting point for many employment related matters:
WorkSafeBC has many resources related to health and safety programs:
WorkBC offers some valuable HR resources for small employers:
The BC Human Rights Code provides various protections for employees: