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Workplace Management is NOT a Democracy

You may have noticed some media coverage about this increasingly-frequent little ritual we have in Canada.  Yes, there is an upcoming federal election.  According to popular opinion your political party leaders are all fantastic choices to lead our free democracy (and depending on who you ask, they’re all terrible), but the real beauty is that we Canadians have the right to vote.  In a very real way, Canadians have the collective power to determine the outcome of this federal election and the consequential political direction of the nation.  Embrace this opportunity.  Get out and vote while you have the chance, because this power does not extend to the rest of our lives.

Contemporary Human Resources culture touts the benefits of incorporating employees into the administration of the workplace in order to keep them engaged in the business.  This can include delegation of responsibilities, and involving employees in decision-making processes to make the company more efficient and keep workers motivated.  Without diminishing the inherent benefits of employee engagement, the fact remains that workplace management is NOT a democracy.  It is the employer’s management staff who – even after consultation with their employees – exercises the ultimate authority to hire, fire, set work schedules, monitor the workplace for health and safety purposes, layoff, discipline, and generally determine how the work is to be done.  This is considerable authority to vest in management, but remember the famous words of Uncle Ben Parker: “with great power comes great responsibility.”

Employers are held to increasingly strict legal standards in all areas of workplace management.  For example:

  • Under Ontario’s Employment Standards Act, employers have numerous responsibilities relating to hours of work, overtime, rest periods, termination, severance, and record keeping;
  • The Labour Relations Act mandates that management maintain a “business as usual” approach in the face of a Union organizing campaign, or risk automatic certification to remedy an unfair labour practice complaint;
  • Employers can be held liable under the Human Rights Code for discrimination and harassment in the workplace, even where the offending misconduct is only being perpetrated by fellow employees;
  • Huge monetary fines can be assessed against employers who fail to keep a safe workplace under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, and this includes new workplace violence and harassment obligations introduced via Bill 168;
  • In the near future, employers will have additional responsibilities to ensure an accessible workplace under the anticipated Regulations to the Access for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

Despite a practical shift to encouraging employees to participate in business administration as a means to keep them engaged in the company, ultimately it is the employer who has the legal responsibility to remain ever-vigilant and exercise their authority in all aspects of employment.  It may seem that workplace management is more like a monarchy than a democracy, and if that’s the case then heavy is the head that wears the crown.


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