Highlights from our Tips for your Policy and Procedure Manual Panel Discussion

Our Vital Partners’ panel discussion in November 2018 focused on tips and trends for workplace policy development, communications, and compliance with legal and legislative requirements. Panelists Jill Wilkie of Miller Thomson, Anne Howard of Anne Howard Consulting, and Jennifer Kirby of Vital Partners shared insights from their perspective practices.


We received some great questions from attendees, so we wanted to share a brief summary of the highlights and take-aways from the session.


Policy and procedure manuals - having written policies in place help articulate your organization’s philosophy and how team members should conduct themselves. As well, having policies and procedures in place:

  • Help protect the employer from legal action as a result of non-compliance with human rights or occupational health and safety rules

  • Help communicate culture and shape expectations around conduct for employees

  • Help articulate safety standards and protocols; safety-sensitive workplaces would have different policies than non-safety sensitive workplaces.

Not surprisingly, there is a trend towards electronic communication of policies and procedures. However, it is important to understand that you must be able to prove that an employee has acknowledged and accepted a policy in your workplace, so having a system where employees sign policy documentation is critical.


For example, one employer had a policy that if the company paid for continuing education such as an MBA, the employee would have to remain in the workplace for at least two years. In this case, the employee was provided the policy along with his employment offer but never signed off. When the employee completed his education, he left, saying that he knew about the policy but never agreed to it. The courts sided with the employee.


Cannabis in the workplace- Legalization of marijuana in October 2018 has introduced a new complexity in the workplace. While consumption of alcohol at work has established guidelines and expectations, legalized marijuana does not.


Part of the complexity around Cannabis in the workplace stems from concern around the differences between medical and recreational cannabis.


It is interesting to note that one in five Albertans reported using marijuana in the last three months, which is the third highest per capita cannabis use in the country. There are currently 107,000 active licenses in Alberta.


In terms of your policies, it is important to incorporate medical cannabis into current substance management policies to ensure safe workplace environments. This is in keeping with the understanding that many over-the-counter medications can be abused and carry occupational concerns.


With recreational cannabis, keep in mind that just because it is legal, it doesn’t mean it is safe or appropriate to use at work. Employees still need to show up fit for work, and you can still assume that they will do so. Employers do not have a duty to accommodate recreational cannabis use.


Consider training managers to identify the signs of impairment from cannabis and what to do in the event of suspected impairment. We know that testing for impairment is a challenge.


Medical Cannabis presents different challenges, but it is important to keep in mind that an employee with an authorization for medical cannabis is not entitled to compromise her own safety of the safety of others, smoke it in the workplace, or have unexcused absences and tardiness.


Where medical cannabis differs from recreational cannabis is that employers are required to apply the same accommodation rules that would be used for disabled employees who are using other types of prescription drugs.


As an employer, you can request proof of authorization that includes when and where the product is ingested, in what dose and form, the impact dosage is expected to have, and prognosis for usage. No patient has an authorization for medical marijuana that is longer than one year.


Further information about cannabis as it relates to benefits plans is included in this month’s article summarizing the Sanofi health care survey.


Occupational Health and Safety - Bill 30, which came into effect on June 1, 2018, is intended to update Alberta’s Workers’ Compensation Board (“WCB”) and Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) regimes. Some of the notable changes with this legislation now include:

  • The psychological and social wellbeing of employees as part of health and safety

  • Contractors, as well as volunteers, are now defined as workers

  • Provisions about the vicinity of the work site where employees eat, rest, or work.

The new Occupational Health and Safety legislation stipulates that employers have a health and safety policy that includes several factors. These factors are outlined in this Government of Alberta Summary.


All employers are required to develop and communicate a written policy that deals with harassment and violence in the workplace. The policy must be developed in accordance with the legislation and include:

  • A strong statement of the employer’s philosophy and commitment to prevent and address harassment,

  • Include examples of behavior that does and does not constitute harassment

  • Set out simple reporting systems and explain how complaints will be handled

Benefits - Benefits and workplace policies intersect in several ways, and there are a few policies that the panelists addressed to ensure that benefits are handled consistently when a similar situation arises at a workplace.

  • Maternity Leave: Most employers offer employees who are leaving on maternity the choice to remain on benefits for the duration of the leave. Typically, the individual must pay 100% of the cost of premiums and may do so by leaving post-dated cheques. Incorporating a consistent policy for all maternity leaves adds clarity for both employees and plan administrators.

  • Benefits at Termination: Every insurance carrier has different rules around which benefits can be extended at termination and for how long. Prior to offering an extension of benefits at termination, we recommend verifying with your insurance carrier what can be offered to the departing employee and make sure that any plan limitations are communicated to that employee. Travel insurance, for example, is often not offered to plan members who are not actively at work.

Policies and procedures play an important role in reducing risk to your organization and protecting you from liability. We’d love to hear about some of the innovative ways that your workplace is communicating policies or using policy to shape culture and performance.