Legislation for HR Professionals – How to Find Answers

Legislation being read by a smiling professional woman seated at desk with laptop

Compliance Works is frequently asked by Canadian employers and their HR teams how to find answers to their compliance questions. This question comes up often because the body of employment-related legal information is vast, differs by jurisdiction, and changes frequently.

Answers Are In The Legislation

The easy reply to, “how do I find answers to my compliance questions” is:  “the answers are in the relevant Canadian employment legislation”. But, it can be challenging to feel confident finding the information you are looking for in legislation. This guide is designed to provide some basic tips for how to approach and read legislation, so can better find answers for yourself.

Why is HR Compliance Important For Employers?

Every employer in Canada is required to comply with employment laws. Complying with these laws is important for a number of reasons:

  • Employer Brand – Compliance with employment law is vital to your reputation as a good employer, which helps you attract and retain talent. A company’s reputation as an employer is also increasingly important to investors and consumers (this goes to both the “Social” and the “Governance” elements of ESG). If you aren’t complying with your minimum obligations as an employer, this can harm your reputation.
  • Employee Awareness – People are increasingly more aware of their rights as employees. The notion of “quiet quitting” is an example of this. Employees are insisting on strict adherence to their rights. Employers need to understand these rights and responsibilities.
  • Legal Liability – There are legal liability risks with non-compliance, including the risk of personal liability for directors and officers.

What Is The Difference Between Acts and Regulations?

Legislation refers to the Acts and Regulations that are passed by governments. Most employers are governed by provincial employment legislation. Acts must be passed by the legislature while regulations are filed. Regulations do not have to go through the same legislative process as Acts. 

When you are looking at legislation, it’s important to look at both the Act and its regulations. Acts set out general requirements whereas the regulations will set out more specific requirements and details. For example, a provincial health and safety Act may require employers to have a first aid kit but the regulation will set out the specific items that must be in the first aid kit. The requirements in a regulation have the same force of law as requirements in an Act, so it’s important that you are complying fully with both the Act and the regulations. 

What Legislation Applies to Employment in Canada?

Employment laws in Canada are not found in one piece of legislation. There are a number of different types of legislation that apply to employment and include the following:

  • Employment Standards 
  • Health and Safety
  • Human Rights
  • Privacy
  • Pay Equity
  • Accessibility
  • Labour Relations
  • Official Languages (in Quebec, New Brunswick and for federally regulated employers)

How to Approach Legislation

What do you do when you need to understand your obligations as an employer? The provincial governments usually provide some guidance, but that guidance will not cover every question that you may have. And the information is not always up to date.

Be cautious with any information that you find via internet searches. Make sure the information that you have found relates to the proper jurisdiction and that the information is current. There are often delays in updating online resources, including government resource pages.

Depending on your question or the information you are searching, you may need to look at the legislation to get your answer. There are a few steps to follow when looking at legislation:

  1. Determine the applicable jurisdiction. If your organization is located in one province and all of your employees are located in that same province, this is a relatively simple exercise. You will need to look at the laws of the province in which you and your employees are located. This question can be more complicated if your organization has employees in more than one province, or in a province other than where the organization is located, including if you have remote workers working from another province. If any of these apply, you should consult with a lawyer to help you determine which province(s)’s laws apply to you.
  2. Determine the applicable legislation. There are a number of Acts that apply to the employment relationship. It’s important to note that some topics are covered in different Acts depending on the province, and in some cases, the same topic may be addressed with different requirements in more than one Act. For example, depending on the province, harassment is dealt with in employment standards, health and safety and/or human rights legislation.
  3. Review the table of contents. You will need to identify all of the sections in the legislation that might relate to your question. Be sure to also read the definitions at the beginning of the Act and any sections that deal with application. Some legislation contains exemptions or special rules for particular types of employees, such as students, supervisors, managers, IT professionals etc. Read through the relevant sections and be sure to check any other sections that are referenced in the sections you are reading.
  4. Follow the same steps for all of the regulations under the Act. You may need to take a look at the table of contents for each regulation to be sure that it does not contain any relevant information. Some regulations have names that suggest what they are about, but others are much less clear. For example, there are many regulations with the title “General” and in Ontario an important regulation under the employment standards legislation is called “When Work Deemed Performed”. The title of the regulation may not be helpful in determining its significance.
  5. Watch for changes. Once you have found your answer, be sure to check the legislation periodically in case of changes. Employment laws change all the time. There have been over 300 changes to employment laws in Canada in the past 12 months.

Legislation 101

Download Your Free Compliance Works Guide: How to Read Legislation

Stay Current With Legislation Changes

Acts and regulations change all the time. Acts are changed through the legislative process, which means changes don’t happen immediately. Regulations, on the other hand, can be changed with little or no advance notice. A new regulation or an amending regulation is simply filed. See the Government of Canada’s resource on the legislative process for more information. While this resource outlines the federal government process, it also applies generally to the legislative process in the provinces and territories, with the exception that there is only one chamber (there is no Senate in the provincial/territorial legislatures).

How Compliance Works Helps HR Find Answers

Compliance with constantly changing employment laws can be challenging and time consuming.  Compliance Works helps Canadian employers and their HR teams find the answers they need to compliance questions.

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Contact us to Request a Demo , subscribe to Compliance Works publications, or email us at info@complianceworks.ca to learn how a paid subscription to Compliance Works can help your HR team succeed.

About the author

Gayle Wadden
Gayle Wadden CLO, Compliance Works
Gayle Wadden is a senior lawyer with deep experience in employment and corporate law. She is responsible for overseeing Compliance Works’ legal content.

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