Policy Manuals – Lawyers are not exempt!

I frequently come across small and mid-sized law firms who have resisted putting an employee policy manual together and will do just about anything else but develop one.  I’ve heard some amazing excuses, such as “if we have a fire – everyone knows where the door is!”

I’m not saying that law firm managers don’t care about their employees, it’s more of a general view that written policies are a human resource issue which tend to get put on the back burner if no designated individual is assigned to handle them. Often it takes a LSUC practice audit to discover that there are no written policies, or worse, a workplace or personnel crisis happens resulting in a nasty mess before the policy manual issue is addressed.  Surprisingly, many lawyers aren’t even aware of the legislated acts and regulations pertaining to the workplace, nor the compliance requirements to post and inform employees of their rights under these various acts.

Employee policy manuals are in the best interest of both the firm and the employee. They centralize the firm’s policies, procedures, work conditions and behavioural expectations for the employees. Equally important, they could protect employers from lawsuits such as harassment or discrimination claims and possibly even fines from government agencies.

Producing an effective employee policy manual doesn’t have to be expensive, but it does take considerable time to sift through relevant information and customize to your firm’s particular culture.  However, once it’s done, it only needs to be reviewed annually for updates.

For law firms, there are three levels of policies that should be incorporated into an effective policy manual.

  1. general safety and office policies that are legislated by the government;
  2. policies derived from the Employment Standards Act that are generally customized to fit the firm’s culture and environment;
  3. practice policies that are mandated or recommended by The Law Society of Upper Canada.

Does your firm have a written policy manual made available to employees which incorporates, but is not limited to, the following legislation?

  • Employee Standards Act (2000)
  • Privacy Act and Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (2004)  (PIPEDA)
  • Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (2005)
  • Ontario Health and Safety Act (Bill C45)
  • The Ontario Workplace Violence Law (Bill 168)



Follow me next month to learn what The Law Society of Upper Canada recommends.

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