Procrastination not good for compliance

Advance preparation a wise strategy when new legislation is coming down the pipe

By Jeffrey R. Smith (jeffrey.r.smith@thomsonreuters.com)

HR departments have to deal with many things to ensure organizations run as smoothly as possible. It’s a balancing act between the organization’s bottom line, employee engagement and compliance with employment and labour law.

This keeps everybody busy and could make it easy to put something on the backburner if it’s not imminent, like new legislation that might be coming into effect down the line. But failure to pay attention could leave an employer unprepared and in trouble when the time to comply comes around.

The province of Ontario, for example, has developed new legislation that will significantly affect businesses when it comes into force next year. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) is intended to remove barriers keeping people with disabilities from fully participating in society and will require business to make adjustments to their physical premises and implement specific training for employees.

It will come into effect in various stages over the next few years, but the first stage, dealing with customer service, comes into force on Jan. 1, 2012, for private-sector firms. That may seem like some time away, but for those businesses affected — those operating in Ontario and those outside of Ontario who serve Ontarians — who don’t start preparing soon, it will be upon them pretty quickly.

Once AODA is in force, business will have to comply and if they haven’t made advance preparations for it, they will end up scrambling. So while it may be difficult for affected businesses to find the priority to ramp up preparations for compliance with the AODA right now, failure to do so might come back to haunt them.

Past experience shows businesses can get caught unprepared when new compliance requirements come into force. Ontario’s new workplace violence legislation, known as Bill 168, came into force last June, but many employers still aren’t compliant despite the fact there was plenty of advance notice. This could lead to fines and investigations of those employers until they’re found to be compliant.

The buzz is other jurisdictions in Canada are looking at implementing legislation similar to AODA. Manitoba, for one, has already gotten the ball rolling. HR people are usually the key to getting businesses and their staff in line with legislation like AODA, so it’s crucial for them to get the ball rolling on compliance before it’s too late.

Jeffrey R. Smith is the editor of Canadian Employment Law Today, a publication that looks at workplace law from a business perspective. For more information, visit www.employmentlawtoday.com.

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