Getting Employment Off to a Good Start in Canada

By Katie Nadworny August 5, 2021
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​Many components go into getting the employment relationship off to a good start in Canada. Here are some key aspects Canadian employers should keep in mind as hiring picks up.

Perfect the Offer Letter

The most important step at the beginning of the employment relationship, according to Rose Keith, an attorney with Harper Gray in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, is the offer letter. 

"When you make the offer in writing, usually one of the most important things is, you want to contemplate how that relationship is going to end," Keith said. The offer letter is the employer's opportunity to limit its liability or provide certainty of what its liability might be if the company ends the employment. 

This is particularly important in Canada because there are generous severance obligations that employers have—unlike in the United States, where most employees are hired on an at-will basis. 

"If the contract is silent, or there is no contract, and we revert to what we call common law in Canada, then the severance and settlements can be very generous, especially by American standards," said Michael Howcroft, an attorney with Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP in Vancouver. It is best to establish at the outset what the severance will be to avoid an issue later.

A poorly worded offer letter can negate termination provisions, which means that common law will dictate how much notice employees must be given prior to termination. This could result in litigation, Keith said.

It's also important to consider any necessary non-solicit or noncompete clauses when drafting an offer letter. Noncompete clauses can fall apart if they are worded too broadly. "You can have an enforceable non-competition or non-solicitation clause in employment agreements, if it is reasonable in the circumstances," Howcroft said. Canadian courts have made it clear that they will not enforce an unreasonable noncompete clause in a contract.

Don't Overlook Effective Onboarding

Another way to start the employment relationship on the right foot is through effective onboarding. 

Spend "the time at the front end to really onboard someone and really expose them to what your workplace is about," Keith said.

Christie Esau works as a counselor and psychotherapist in Ottawa, and she just began a new job in June. She found that having focused, personalized onboarding has been one of the most important aspects in adjusting to her new company.

Throughout her onboarding process, Esau has been training with the person she is replacing. "So, there's not a constant rotation of meetings to attend or new people to try to connect with; it's with one person," she said. "I feel like I'm able to establish a rapport with her, to have lots of opportunities to ask questions."

Her predecessor also created a manual outlining the job, so Esau can consult the manual to address her questions. And although she won't be working onsite just yet, her company is arranging a building tour for her so she can feel oriented when she visits the workplace. 

Challenges as Remote Work Continues

Companies will have to continue evaluating how to effectively onboard in a virtual work environment. When Misty Pratt began her new job last August, the pandemic was still rampant in Canada and her whole interview and onboarding process had to take place remotely. Pratt, a health research coordinator in Ottawa, found the virtual experience difficult at first, describing it as "strange."

But her manager and co-workers have made it a priority to remain hands-on during her onboarding. "My own boss and the other research coordinator I work with, who I would also kind of consider my manager, checked in really regularly," Pratt said. 

Keith thinks some employees will continue to want the flexibility of working from home.

As Canada's Employment Standards Legislation can vary slightly from province to province, Keith anticipates that there will be future case law to help establish which version of this legislation remote workers' contracts should follow. 

"It could be the province where the person is residing, if they're working from home," Keith said. "There may be an argument that it's the province where the employer is, so in those situations, it's going to be really important that employers get advice," she added, "because if they're not complying, they can face some pretty significant fines, and it can impact the protections they've written into their employment agreements."

Katie Nadworny is a freelance writer in Istanbul. 

[Want to learn more? Join us at the SHRM Annual Conference & Expo 2021, taking place Sept. 9-12 in Las Vegas and virtually.]

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