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Three ways to create a positive workplace

Richard B. Johnson

Co-Founder + Partner
July 8, 2022

In a time of significant labour shortage, finding and retaining good employees may be a small business’s greatest expenditure of time and productivity. In spite of this hurdle, there are ways to create a workplace environment that has people eager to be part of your team, with a loyalty that makes them stay, even in tough times. 


And it doesn’t have to mean offering higher than average wages or fancy job titles. 

Get it down on paper with an employment contract

Firstly, bring people into your business with an established, clear and reasonable employment contract. The days of a simple handshake agreement sufficing are gone. 


The contract does not have to be complicated nor should it be filled with legal jargon. In fact, it should be written so that even those with limited English skills can understand it well enough to sign off on it. If an employment dispute ends up in court over a contract that is unclear, it is far more likely to hurt the employer that crafted it. 


The employment contract should include the basics: wages, schedules of work, time off, vacations, overtime, list of responsibilities, severance, and consequences of failing to meet the requirements of the job. It should also include how the relationship between the employer and employee will be handled if one or both parties decide to end it. 


Offering a written contract sets a positive tone that you are making a commitment to adhere to specific terms and conditions, just as you are expecting the employee to do. A lot of anguish can be avoided by having a mutual understanding of the employment relationship. Above all, respect, integrity, and transparency, should be the underlying tone and genuine intent of the employment contract. 

Know Human Rights Laws

It is important to observe the human rights regulations where your employees are working. 


In BC, the Human Rights Code has evolved and is continually in review and modification in accord with current social values and legal precedents. It’s a good idea to keep your eye on what the BC and Canadian court decisions are telling us about these issues. Discrimination on the basis of a person’s identity, whether it’s gender, age, race, religion, sexual preference, appearance or one of several other “protected grounds”, is no longer tolerated.


Bear in mind that if your employee works remotely in another jurisdiction, even another province or country, the specific labour and human rights laws of your employee’s location are the laws you are obligated to follow.


Part of onboarding employees is also to provide them with a Bullying and Harassment Policy that outlines what is not acceptable behaviour and communication at your company. Having counsel draft this agreement properly from the outset can ensure that it passes legal requirements while fitting the needs of your organization. Just be sure to include very specific directions on how a person can report abuse of this kind within your company. 


Victims of bullying and harassment can be very vulnerable when disclosing their experience to an employer. But with a clear, step-by-step complaint process, the issue can be resolved with sensitivity and respect for all concerned.


Be aware that online employment websites and social media provide outlets for critiques of employers on a range of issues from both current and former employees. The last thing you want is to read that staff endure harassment or systemic discrimination in your workplace.  

Follow the Golden Rule

Last but not least is the approach some employers have more difficulty with than others. It is the Golden Rule by which so many of us are taught; treat others as you would have them treat you. What a simple but invaluable rule it is, and yet how strained we often are to apply it to our workplace.


Your standing as a business owner and your company’s reputation can only be elevated when you take the steps to ensure you not only treat your clients with respect and dignity but that you extend the same consideration to your employees.


For some of us, the human touch does not come naturally. It may feel awkward at times. You may want to avoid appearing soft or sentimental to your employees. And you don’t need to. But it is to your advantage to treat employees with fairness, kindness and consideration, regardless of the circumstances. 


Let people know you can understand and accept when they need time to deal with their children or a family member in distress. BC’s Human Rights Code (and the Human Rights Tribunal that enforces it) recognize family status and offers protections for parents who must juggle job demands with family responsibilities.


Ask your employee a simple question, ‘What do you need?’ ‘How can we help you?’ Give employees permission to take time away if they are grieving or ill without making them feel they are letting down the team. Show the human touch to your employees and they will remember it and respect you for it. 


When an employee doesn’t work out, firing them on a Friday afternoon is not best practice in today’s workplace. It is preferable and more business forward, to handle layoffs and dismissals with consideration and respect, even if the relationship has become strained. 


It is advisable to consult a lawyer you trust when formulating an employment contract, composing a harassment policy or preparing a legal response to a complaint. The costs of legal advice for these services upfront are modest, compared with the potential costs of a legal wrangle. Laying the foundation for a positive workplace could spare you incalculable costs and headaches, down the road.


Contact us now – we want to help!