Over half of Canadian employees have had the terms of their work changed due to COVID-19, making employment law one of the most important areas of your legal department during the pandemic. How can you protect the company from the legal ramifications of layoffs, contract changes, and dealing with employee leave?
According to employment lawyer Howard Levitt, the area of Canadian law most affected by COVID-19 is and will be employment law. In a recent article in Canadian Lawyer magazine, Levitt stated that more than half of the employees in Canada have had their terms of work changed due to the pandemic.
For corporate legal departments, this means becoming more enmeshed with Human Resources than usual, and having a hand in any new work policies. It also involves ensuring that HR policies and health and safety procedures keep up with new regulations which are being released by provincial governments to ensure safety in the workplace, where employees are required to come into physical locations and are not working remotely. Catherine Lau, General Counsel for Mountain Equipment Co-Op, describes how her legal department is becoming more central to the company during COVID-19 while facing many of these challenges.
While HR is responsible for caring for employee wellbeing and enforcing a safe work environment, the corporate legal department must be the jurisprudential guide for what the company can and cannot do. This means providing constant updates to HR with new regulations and having nearly constant availability should they have any questions. Your legal department should also have a hand in downsizing to make sure that the company is not running afoul of any of these new regulations or existing labour laws.
Make sure employment law is handled by a proper specialist in your legal department
There are a number of everyday questions that your department will get surrounding COVID-19, and the answers are not exactly as straightforward as you would think. You are not, for example, required to pay an employee that has contracted COVID-19 or is in quarantine or self-isolation if they have used up their sick leave. You may not, however, terminate an employee who is self-isolating due to an ongoing medical condition which puts them in a high-risk group, such as diabetes or heart disease. There are a number of legal landmines that can easily be overlooked, and you need to have the resources available to give you the foresight to see them.
If your corporate legal department does not have a specialized employment lawyer on staff, you may want to consider entering into a relationship with a law firm which specializes in employment law, or hiring an employment lawyer on contract. The heightened risk associated with the pandemic could easily justify the cost, especially when you consider that non-unionized workplaces have a higher chance of becoming unionized during this time. Additionally, employment lawyers on the other side of the coin are being kept busy by clients who are hiring them to challenge new work policies, reductions in work hours, and terminations. Employees must agree to any changes in their existing employment contracts in order for the employer to be protected from a legal standpoint.
Your company only faces these risks if both human resources and your corporate legal department are not doing what they should be. If you have employment lawyers on staff, consider giving them more support in the form of administrative staff or other lawyers who are seeing a smaller case load during this time.
DiliTrust Governance: Contract Management, Reporting, and More
DiliTrust Governance is enterprise legal management software that allows you to easily and quickly manage, change and review contracts. It will also allow you to view what caseloads are like for each legal department staff member at a glance so you can resource them appropriately, or make the call to bring in outside help if everyone is busy.
Overall productivity can be increased by the ability to see, store and share files easily and collaborate on them, all from anywhere that you can use a web browser. Litigation and contracts can also be handled by DiliTrust Governance, making it the core tool of any legal department that adopts it. Support is carried out at our Montreal office, in both English and French, and it is designed to require minimal training to use – which we provide.
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Contact us today to find out how DiliTrust Governance can help you manage your legal contracts and much more.