What is an Employee Handbook and Why is it Important?

What is an Employee Handbook and why do we need one?

What is an Employee Handbook?

At its core, an employee handbook is a place to keep all of your official HR policies. It’s also so much more: it’s a document that describes and celebrates your company’s culture and values. 

An employee handbook should also include an acknowledgment form where employees sign off on all of its policies.

Why do we need an Employee Handbook?

An employee handbook protects the business from legal exposure by defining what is—and is not—acceptable at your company. 

Employee handbooks also protect the people on your team by informing them of their legal rights, and by setting expectations from day 1.

Can I just keep a folder of our policies instead?

A loose collection of policies—even if they’re all in one convenient place—is not as good as having a full employee handbook. For one, tracking who has signed off on which policies becomes a logistical nightmare. Updating policies over time and tracking changes quickly becomes an issue as well.

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How does Castle HR do Employee Handbooks?

We make fully-customized employee handbooks that shout your company culture from the rooftops. Your values are front and centre, and every policy is written to fit your exact needs.

A modern employee handbook is more than just a way to stay legally compliant; it’s a document that employees will refer back to time and again because it has answers.

Castle HR also proactively updates our clients’ employee handbooks when something changes. Companies often find the need for new policies as they grow. An employment bill passing into law also presents the need to adapt—often quickly.

Can I use a template to create my employee handbook?

Templates—whether for the overall document or for specific policies—will never do your company justice. While a template may provide some coverage, the gaps are critical when it comes to legal exposure. 

The presentation of a handbook also sends an important message to the team. What level of effort and care went into creating a document so central to the organization? They’ll know.

The bottom line:

An employee handbook is an important document for both new and tenured employees. It codifies your culture, and there’s power in writing things down.

It’s also critical to stay compliant with your legal responsibilities, both to protect your business and your people.


Book a call with us to learn how we’re helping companies
attract superstar talent, increase productivity,
and score a ridiculous retention rate.

70 Percentage

increase in new
hire quality

59 Percentage

less
turnover

21% - Castle HR

more
profitable

How to Build a Modern HR Strategy

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How to Build a Modern HR Strategy

Let me guess:

Maybe you had a top performer give their notice and filling that gap is now your top priority and now you need to scramble to meet product launch deadlines or sales targets…

Or maybe you’re not seeing results from your recruiting strategy, and if one more A+ candidate takes a role with another company you will throw your laptop out the window…

Or maybe you are tired of keeping up to date with the latest Bill and legal precedents that passed and understanding what policies you need to change…

Or maybe you have some underperforming employees and you are pulling out your hair to try and motivate them…

What gives? You have a leak in your HR strategy.

Something, somewhere, has gone awry, and it’s impacting your retention, performance and culture. This is where Modern HR strategies are game-changers.

They will help you find those leaks, seal them up, and get you back on track to smashing your growth goals for the year.

Ready to build your best team and become a talent magnet? Here’s how to implement a Modern HR strategy.

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Why Is Modern HR Important?

In the new world of work, the balance of power has shifted from companies to their people. Because of this shift, people expect more from the companies and leaders for whom they choose to work.

Your company’s success depends heavily on Modern HR Strategies that provide what employees have come to expect. 

A business must build a strong culture that attracts top-tier talent, provides a fast start for new hires, engages people by providing feedback and actively invests in their development. 

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If your HR strategy is not up to what today’s workforce wants, you’ll most likely only attract B-Players or have underperforming A-Players – both will stunt your company’s growth.

Besides helping you attract your ideal candidates or ensuring you are compliant with the ever-changing employment law landscape, Modern HR strategies give you an in-depth understanding of your team.

As Gino Wickman says in Traction, knowing if you have the “Right People” in the “Right Seats” is paramount to success – this mentality drives our Modern HR strategy.

How we do Modern HR

OK, so now that we know why Modern HR is important, let’s dive into the steps required to increase results.

1. HR Foundation

A building can only be as tall as its foundation allows. Similarly, companies need strong HR Foundations or they will scale to the size they can.

Here are the key aspects to any Modern HR Foundation:

Company Values

Define your beliefs and vision so you can communicate them.

Employee Handbook

Set expectations for the team and protect the business you worked so hard to build.

Surveys

Reviewing core metrics regularly will validate if you’re on track or identify potential leaks in your strategy.

Some of the HR Data Points you’ll want to review include:

  • Turnover Rates
  • Engagement
  • Productivity

We regularly track these HR Data Points and offer comparisons against our portfolio as well as peer data if available. 

2. Modern Performance Reviews

Modern Performance Reviews are the backbone of any Retention Strategy and continually validate that you have the “Right People in the Right Seats” with quarterly conversations.

Old school Annual Performance Reviews that resemble a high school report card are not going to cut it with today’s workforce. It is imperative that you have multiple conversations a year to avoid the Santa Phenomenon:

Honest feedback increases your retention and identifies who should level up roles or are possibly exited from the company.

Two major aspects of a Modern Performance Review are:

Culture

Validate your team and company are living the compay’s values.

Growth

Having the conversation that asks the powerful sequence of questions: Where did you come from? Where are you now? and Where do you want to go?

Having these conversations tells your team that you care about them and their future at your organization.

Tracking Modern Performance Reviews is important and should be done in an HRIS.

group of people sitting inside room

3. Talent Acquisition

Raise your hand if you have ever said this after meeting a candidate:

“They were great, but let’s see what else is out there.”

This is what we refer to as “Interview Insecurity” and it is one of the enemies of building a team full of A+ talent.

You need to understand two key aspects, what is your Ideal Candidate Profile and what is their Ideal Company Profile. When those are aligned, it will make it 10x easier to identify and hire top-tier talent.

When starting a new hire search ask yourself these questions before you make a job posting:

What does success look like for this role?

This question is often overlooked and the Job Title is used. It is critical that you note how you will judge the success of the hire and they know this coming in too.

  1. What is the Ideal Candidate Profile?

Now you know what they need to do to be successful, what skills, traits, values and competencies will they need?

If you don’t Know EXACTLY who you are looking for, how will you know when you find them?

  1. Where will you find your Ideal Candidate?

We love sharing every new role with the team and use an Employee Referral Program as an incentive.

If nothing comes from asking the team, you need to create a Job Posting that speaks directly to your Ideal Candidate and post them where they look.

You can also amplify your sourcing strategy with Specialized Talent Networks — e.g. Women in Tech Sales

  1. What Interview Process should we use?

Having an Interview Scorecard will help provide clarity, reduce Interview Bias and expedite internal conversations.

When you have a clear vision of your Ideal Candidate, know where to find them, have an interview process that gives you confidence to make an offer you will build a dream team!

4. Onboarding Playbook

What should an Onboarding Playbook include?

An Onboarding Playbook should include a strategy from when a new hire signs an Offer Letter to their Probation Review. If done properly it will not give them a running start, but shoot them out of a cannon towards success!

We often joke that in fast growing companies an onboarding process usually amounts to handing over a laptop and giving them a high-five.

Onboarding plays a vital role in the success of your HR Strategy. It affects Turnover Rate, productivity, and culture.

We look at a few key milestones to create custom Onboarding Playbooks:

  • Day 0

Everything that happens from signing to their first day, this can include Swag Bags and Welcome Packages.

  • Orientation Week

The schedule for the first week that introduces new hires to the Values, Product/Service, Leadership and expectations (think Employee Handbook).

  • Ramp Up

You will define what success looks like for the first 90 days and put them on a clear path to get there – checking in at certain points.

  • Probation Review

This day 90 check-in should be to review how the new hire did against the agreed upon expectations and let them know if they passed their probation.

Having a positive and focused onboarding experience checks all the boxes leaders want: high performance and increased tenure at the company.

Frequently Asked Questions About Modern HR Strategies:

How often should I review my Modern HR Strategy plan?

You should review your Modern HR Strategy every quarter or 6 months to ensure no leaks have sprung and to adjust as your company grows.

What are Modern HR Strategies?

Modern HR strategies embrace empathy, make data-driven decisions and deploy strategies that resonate with today’s workforce.

What HR Tools can I use to improve Modern HR impact?

The best tool you can use to improve your HR strategy is having an HRIS (Human Resource Information System). This is because it enables data entry, tracking and provides a single source of truth about your team.

How does Modern HR Strategies impact Retention?

Modern HR Strategies contribute to increasing retention rate at a company, the largest contributor would be Modern Performance Reviews as they provide feedback loops and career growth plans.

Conclusion: Modern HR Strategies

HR is never a once-and-done thing. It’s something you need to nurture and constantly give attention to if you want to see sustainable, long-term growth.

Whether you’re just starting out, refreshing an existing strategy, or checking HR Data Points, you need to evaluate your Modern HR Strategy continually. 

Doing so will ensure you’re making progress and on track to meet your growth goals.


Book a call with us to learn how we’re helping companies
attract superstar talent, increase productivity,
and score a ridiculous retention rate.

70 Percentage

increase in new
hire quality

59 Percentage

less
turnover

21% - Castle HR

more
profitable

What You Need To Know About Bill 27

What You Need To Know About Bill 27

The Employment Standards Act (“ESA”) is changing. What does that mean for business owners?

Notably, the ESA is evolving – in light of how the pandemic affected workers – to include more worker-friendly measures. We’ll go through the highlights in this article, but if you’re curious to see the full content of the proposed Bill 27, you can find it here.

Although Bill 27 has not passed into law just yet, it’s good to be prepared. Better to have a plan in your back pocket and not need it, than to find yourself scrambling after the fact.

(We’ll update this space when new details emerge. Stay tuned!)


What is the Working for Workers Act?

The Working For Workers Act is the government’s newest legislation to amend the ESA, the Occupational Health and Safety Act (“OHSA”), and other laws to make them more worker-friendly. Along with the changes to the ESA, the bill introduces new penalties when fees are illegally collected from foreign workers trying to come to Canada, and provides internationally-trained professionals easier access to obtain their certification to practice in Canada. 

Yet it is the amendments to the ESA that are garnering the most attention. As Labour Minister Monte McNaughton announced in his press release, “Our government is working for workers. To do so, we must act swiftly and decisively to put workers in the driver’s seat and begin rebalancing the scales.”

Can any delivery driver now use our bathroom?

The first time Bill 27 made headlines was actually for a proposed change to OHSA. During the pandemic, food delivery drivers – many of whom operated through third-party apps such as UberEats and Skip The Dishes – became the lifeblood of the restaurant industry. Despite working long shifts for several hours, those drivers were often not allowed to use the washrooms in the restaurants where they picked up food for an app customer.

The new law states that “the owner of a workplace shall ensure that access to a washroom is provided, on request, to a worker who is present at the workplace to deliver anything to the workplace, or to collect anything from the workplace for delivery elsewhere.” The only exceptions are if there is a health and safety issue, if the washroom is in or can only be accessed through a home, or if it would be unreasonable or impractical to do so.

If your workers order lunch (or snacks!) to the office, this could be relevant for you.

Are non-competition clauses now illegal?

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Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Bill 27 states that “no employer shall enter into an employment contract or other agreement with an employee that is, or that includes a non-compete agreement.” So essentially – yes. It goes on to add that any non-competition agreements with employees already in place are void.

While that may come as a surprise to employers, it mostly solidifies what the courts have said for years: that in recent decades, employers have held significant power in the employment relationship and that they should not prohibit former employees from being free to make a living. 

For a non-competition clause in an employment contract to be enforceable before Bill 27, it must be very limited in the geographic area and duration in which it prevents a former employee from competing. After Bill 27 (if it passes into law) a non-competition agreement will be unenforceable except in rare circumstances involving the sale of an entire business.

Without non-compete clauses, what’s to stop former employees from poaching our business?

While non-competition clauses may be out, there are still ways that employers can protect their interests after employees decide to move on. 

An employer may not be able to stop a former employee from working with the competition, but they can stop them from poaching staff, clients, or stealing confidential information. Non-solicitation clauses in an employment contract can still prevent former employees from poaching any staff, key contacts, or existing clients.

These clauses should also be written carefully though, as something too broad may not hold up in litigation. For example, ‘any clients of the business’ may be impossible to enforce, but the more specific ‘any clients known to the employee within the previous 12 months’ provides that former employee a much clearer picture of what conduct will be offside. 

Employers can also use of confidentiality clauses. These too must be carefully written to ensure that an employer retains all rights to confidential information from within their workplace, and they can also mandate that the employer owns anything that the employee created during their term of employment. When that employee leaves, they are not allowed to take any confidential information with them, including trade secrets, customer lists, etc. 

If these contract topics are important to you, speak with an employment lawyer for specific advice.

 “This law is designed to protect employees from overwork and burnout. At first glance this might seem one-sided for employees, but preventing burnout benefits businesses in a big way too.”

What is the ‘Right To Disconnect?’

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Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

The other key feature of Bill 27 was also the biggest headline-grabber of all the proposed changes. The Bill introduces a ‘right to disconnect’ – similar to what currently exists in several European countries – where employers will be unable to communicate with employees outside of working hours. More specifically, this is defined as “not engaging in work-related communications, including emails, telephone calls, video calls or the sending or reviewing of other messages, so as to be free from the performance of work.”

So what does that mean? The law will require employers with 25 or more employees to draft a workplace policy outlining employees’ right to disconnect shortly after Bill 27 becomes law. This will mean that employers cannot expect employees to work all hours, or to be responsive when they are not on the clock.

For employees who have spent the better part of the last 2 years unexpectedly working from home, the news represents a welcome reprieve. Some employers have had high expectations of their teams, and employees have expressed a pressure to put in extra hours through the pandemic. This law is designed to protect employees from overwork and burnout. At first glance this might seem one-sided for employees, but preventing burnout benefits businesses in a big way too.

How will we implement “disconnecting” into our business?

On this point, we don’t have full details on what this right to disconnect will entail. Typically, the Ministry of Labour will put out a sample policy for HR experts to use as a guideline when designing customized policies for a workplace. We’ll be first in line when that happens!

This one is of particular interest to us at Castle HR, where we have built our business on offering our employees flexible working hours. We understood – even before the pandemic – that employees have lives, and may choose to do their work on their own schedule instead of 9-5.

Even with our flexible working hours, we remind our team regularly that they have no obligation to respond outside of their working hours unless it is an absolute emergency. We take our downtime seriously, and firmly believe that no one should have to interrupt it for something could have easily waited until the next business day.

We may have to alter some habits or policies to adjust, but the intent of this part of Bill 27 is certainly aligned with the spirit of our existing culture. If one person is doing their work in the evening and another prefers mornings, that gap might be well served by strategic “do not disturb” settings so that no one feels bad about what time of day they send an email.

Like with any major change in employment law, our job is to help you stay compliant. Our role as outsourced HR professionals is to help you both follow the law and stay ahead of the latest trends. Set up a time below to speak with one of our experts. 


Book a call with us to learn how we’re helping companies
attract superstar talent, increase productivity,
and score a ridiculous retention rate.

70 Percentage

increase in new
hire quality

59 Percentage

less
turnover

21% - Castle HR

more
profitable

Why Flexible Work Works

Why Flexible Work Works

A lot of the workforce has started to feel some form of malaise as the pandemic stretches on. Most of us have either felt this ourselves or know someone for whom daily work feels more like they’re going through the motions. In his popular New York Times article, organizational psychologist Adam Grant calls this “languishing.”

That word struck a chord with us at Castle HR. While the worst of the pandemic may be – thankfully – over, we see how severe the employee burnout has become. Especially so in small organizations that have spent the last two years just fighting to stay afloat. Employees across the country are exhausted from ongoing environmental stresses and health worries, continuously changing workplace protocols, and learning -often on the fly – how to do their work in entirely new ways. 

And with winter (and therefore fewer daylight hours) coming up, seasonal affective disorder (or “SAD”) is bound to compound these feelings for a lot of us. This kind of employee fatigue – that is, feelings rooted in persistent external factors – is not going to be solved with a quick fix like a holiday bonus or a week of office closure before the new year.

While the ‘Great Resignation’ is more visible in the US, reports everywhere from the pandemic have shown that it is very real in Canada too. A large number of employees did not plan to return to their old positions once work re-opened, many of whom citing burn out as the main reason. 

Business owners we’ve spoken to are feeling many of the same things, and have the added stressors of trying to replace talented team members that are leaving. We know how painful turnover is for your business, both from a cost perspective and the time investment required to find the right talent as replacement.

For the sake of both owners and employees, we wanted to share one of the strategies our team uses to help preserve our mental health, or “beat the blahs”: Flex Days.

“I am more productive when I work hours that make sense to my family, and I am not distracted by wondering what I am missing. It’s not about working less; it’s about making the time that I am working count more.” 

Robyn Leduc, hr lead at Castle hr

Flex Days Around The World

Flex days aren’t new; other companies have used various versions before us. Famously, Google had a widespread ‘80-20’ policy, which meant that 20% of the time (or one day a week) Google employees could work on whatever passion projects they liked. The company, especially in its earlier years, found that the policy boosted employee engagement and creativity, and even utilized some of the ideas generated by employees in their free time. 

In Japan, Microsoft recently implemented a four day work-week, similar to some European models. It allowed employees to collect their full paycheque while only working 80% of the time. The company found that not only were they saving money in electricity, saving on printing costs, and that meetings overall were running shorter and more efficiently.

Many larger North American companies rejected the idea of a four-day work week, fearing that it would lead to a disengaged and less productive workforce. But if Google and Microsoft were doing it, we figured there had to be something to it.

How Castle Does Flexible Work Days

In order to support our clients’ work weeks, we didn’t think we could go right into a 4-day week. Maybe we’ll get there, but that’s another conversation! What we landed on is 4 regular business days, and one “flex” day.

On our flex days, no one books client meetings. We’re still reachable in case of emergencies, but the flex day is the time to get a head start on all the planning and organizing we did on Monday. It also gives us time to reliably schedule professional development, knowing it won’t get bumped when something inevitably comes up.

We decided early on that it would be Tuesdays. Mondays are full of energy and teams love coming together to plan the week. Fridays are a busy day for us, making sure everything is wrapped up and delivered to clients.

We know that our team members have lives outside of work, and Tuesday is sometimes also a day to get stuff done that doesn’t work as part of a weekend: like appointments, or just being there after school to pick up your kids or attend their gymnastics class. Our CEO, Tom, likes to golf on Tuesdays.

Flex days also mean working on our own hours. Some of our team members pack more into the mornings so they can spend the afternoon with family. Or they prefer to sleep in and work late, knowing they won’t have any early calls.

Our HR Lead, Robyn, said it best: “Working a flexible schedule means I don’t have to choose between having a career I love and being there for my kids in the moments that are important. I am more productive when I work hours that make sense to my family, and I am not distracted by wondering what I am missing. It’s not about working less; it’s about making the time that I am working count more.”

Why flex days have worked for us

We’ve kept Tuesdays as flexible work days because we love how well it’s worked. We know that may not be a fit for every business, but the take-aways can be applied to most workplaces: design your work around life, not the other way around.

If you see some signs of employee burnout, we would love to chat further and see how we can help prevent it early on. Flex days – as one possible solution – offer the peace of mind that for one work day each week, they can be off-camera and work at their own pace.

And having some freedom to schedule work around family might be the gesture from leadership that re-energizes and re-engages someone who might consider leaving.

Flex days may or may not work for you, but our HR consultants are known for coming up with creative solutions to solve problems like this. Schedule time with us using the calendar below, and let’s explore together.


Book a call with us to learn how we’re helping companies
attract superstar talent, increase productivity,
and score a ridiculous retention rate.

70 Percentage

increase in new
hire quality

59 Percentage

less
turnover

21% - Castle HR

more
profitable

Why You Need to Modernize Your Performance Reviews

Why You Need to Modernize Your Performance Reviews

We see a lot of raised eyebrows when we speak about a modern approach to performance reviews. Historically, performance reviews are dreaded by both managers and employees. The anticipation of sitting down for an annual meeting is stressful and awkward, and when the conversations do finally take place they’re not as beneficial for either party as they could be.

The truth is that there is a better way to do performance reviews. 

At Castle we’ve created a modern approach to performance reviews that are beneficial for employers and helpful for employees as well. This does present something of a shift in thinking for employers; many came up as employees in workplaces that did things the old fashioned way. We recommend that as employers you cast aside that once-a-year port mortem mentality, stop focusing so much on salary, and really make sure that your employees are motivated and growing professionally. 

We get a lot of questions about how to handle performance reviews, and we wanted to share a few tips that highlight the benefit of modernizing your approach.

What is the goal of a performance review?

The ultimate goal of a performance review is to make sure that you have the right people in the right seats at your company. The old approach to performance reviews is a missed opportunity here. Instead of trying to rank employees by whatever metrics, we are better served making sure people have the skills to succeed in their role.

As workplace expert Jim Collins talks about in Good To Great, use performance reviews as an opportunity to make sure that you have “the right people on the bus, the right people in the right seats.” A performance review is your best method for quality assurance when it comes to your employees. You’ll be able to ensure that your employees are performing exactly as you expect, and if there are any issues you can address them quickly before they escalate. 

Remember, when it’s your workplace you’re the one driving the bus. Not only do reviews make sure that everyone is sitting in the right seat, but you’ll be able to quickly recognize who needs to change seats, and who is ready for more responsibility. This level of familiarity with your team makes it easier to promote from within, which in turn can save both time and money instead of recruiting externally.

How often should we do performance reviews?

The old method is to do performance reviews annually, usually at the end of the calendar or fiscal year. Employees spend the weeks leading up to the review on their best behaviour, creating a recency bias that’s very real. Employers and managers running teams are also forced to try and remember what happened with each report for a full year – and that’s hard!

The modern approach is to run quarterly reviews. This frequency takes a lot of the pressure off of the meeting, and allows it to flow more like an ongoing conversation. We have found that this gives employers a greater degree of control in the process, too. Not only are they working with employees when they’re more relaxed, but they’re able to assess performance in real time instead of forgetting about incidents that have long passed – or waiting up to a year to address them. 

Quarterly reviews are beneficial when it comes to setting goals, too, by enabling shorter-term, practical goals alongside larger ones. Tracking and measuring progress is much more motivating this way. The continuous feedback keeps employees more engaged, and excited about their development.

Should performance reviews be tied to pay?

This question comes up all the time, because a direct link from review to compensation is very much the typical flow. Employees have been trained to enter the conversation as though they’re visiting a mall Santa: present a list of their good deeds and accomplishments over the past year, and then ask for the salary increase that they believe they deserve. This may have worked at a time when employees stayed with the same company for decades and salary increases were the greatest badge of honour for a job well done.

That is no longer the case. 

Employees are much more mobile across both companies and roles these days, so keeping the right people loyal to your team is going to require a new tactic. Regular performance reviews can become a dynamic conversation about growth, which is something modern employees value as a token of success. 

Salary increases are important, and of course there is still a place for them. Tying them instead to long-term growth and development changes the game: consistent hard work plus the drive to improve and learn leads to rewards. It’s not enough to just be great in Q4, hoping that’s all your manager remembers.

“Employees will recognize that performance reviews stop being an adversarial process and start being a conversation with a manager that’s invested in their success.” 

Can performance reviews increase employee retention?

Absolutely! One of the biggest problems with the old approach is that they effectively became an exercise in ranking employees. Once reviews were completed you could list your employees from best to worst by a numerical score, which doesn’t contribute to employee development and is not a useful way to look at human beings. If an employee feels like they’re just a line item on some ranking sheet, how likely are they to stay, knowing that everything they do is reduced to one number?

Employee retention is a huge problem in any sized company. We recently assisted with a benchmark study in the MaRS Discovery District, which showed that the average number of leaders who were promoted from within is roughly 20%, or 1 in 5 – and this was true for both larger and small companies. That’s really low! Imagine how a higher internal promotion rate could improve loyalty and morale, not to mention preserve your company culture and internal operating knowledge.

Modern performance reviews – done quarterly – show you who is really on your bus. You will gain a fuller understanding of your employee’s hopes and ambitions, and can spot opportunities for advancement far earlier. Not only is there a cost and time savings to promoting from within, but employees knowing that such opportunities exist motivates them to stick around for the long haul.  


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Client Testimonial - Crowdlinker

“Thanks to Marylisa and Alec, we now have a performance review system that creates a motivating and highly personalized experience that touches the lives of our people.”

COURTNEY ZORIO, COO CROWDLINKER

How do we run quarterly review conversations?

When employees are surveyed and asked about the best qualities in a manager, the universal answer every time is when employees believe that a manager truly cares about them and their success. Financial rewards are nice to a point, but there is no substitute for having a manager that is ultimately rooting for your success and offering whatever support they can along the way.

While old school reviews are top-down, modern performance reviews allow you to turn them into a conversation. Show employees you care by speaking openly about what is working, and what opportunities exist to improve – whether that’s for this role, or the next one. Ask them where they would like to go next, and discuss how you can help them get there. Our approach is to make the conversation centered on the person, not about a score or a number. Employees will recognize that performance reviews stop being an adversarial process and start being a conversation with a manager that’s invested in their success. 

It’s no secret that at Castle HR we see performance reviews differently. Our approach has helped our clients reinvent the way that they engage with their employees, and has ultimately led to greater retention and greater team development.

Our outsourced HR professionals work closely with our clients to help them change their performance review system top-down. Our approach is a unique one, and we will work with you step by step to implement it into your organization. Schedule a time below to set up an HR consultation and learn more about how we can help you do things differently.


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Client Testimonials - Castle HR

“My favourite part of working with Castle HR is that they systematically and methodically work through the various elements of one’s operation, from values to performance reviews to onboarding, and their talented team guides you to building processes and content that make a big impact.”

ROB CARMICHAEL, CEO CAMPBRAIN


Book a call with us to learn how we’re helping companies
attract superstar talent, increase productivity,
and score a ridiculous retention rate.

70 Percentage

increase in new
hire quality

59 Percentage

less
turnover

21% - Castle HR

more
profitable

Why Outsourced HR Should Be Your First Phone Call

Why Outsourced HR Should Be Your First Phone Call

As your business grows, so too grow the challenges and headaches you face. You may have initially run everything on your own or in a small team while trying to get the business off the ground, you have now begun to hire employees to take your vision to the next level. Where you may have once personally worn several hats – sales, marketing, and customer service – you’ve now had to hand off those duties so you can focus on strategy and growth.

Yet as an employer, it’s those staffing issues that can sometimes leave you wanting to tear your hair out. Hiring is a complex task, and not every dream candidate will turn out to be the right fit for your organization. Even the best employees will occasionally run into issues and conflicts that you may not know how to resolve. As your team grows it will be important to have systems, policies and procedures in place to help deal with difficult situations, and even prevent them from arising where possible.

Having an outsourced HR department is your best first line of defense. The term ‘HR business partner’ seems like it might be exclusive to the corporate world, but it paints a great picture – HR at its best should function as your business partner. Our primary goal is to protect your business, and our knowledge of people and of your workplace helps us put systems in place to make that happen. 

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As outsourced HR experts, our business is people, and our fractional approach to HR consulting allows us to focus on your people. We understand employment law, but we also understand how it connects with behaviour, psychology, and even attitudes and beliefs to determine how the workplace should function best. We know what best practices look like in a situation, and the small, incremental steps that it can take to reach them.

HR professionals work to protect your workplace in two key ways. The first is from a lens of prevention. The last thing you want as an overworked business owner is to spend countless hours drafting a policy manual, which will then require further investments of time for tweaks and upgrades as law and best practices change. Leave that to us. We regularly draft the policies and procedures that tell your employees how you want your business to operate. We also understand employment law, and will make sure that your policies are compliant with crucial legal requirements, which can help defend you against any potential legal claims.


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We also resolve difficult situations. When you need to have a difficult conversation with an employee you may not know how to proceed, but we do. We can take part in these conversations and guide them towards a resolution before a problem persists. When performance issues arise, we step in to help with performance management, and can lay out the framework for clear expectations of how to turn a bad situation around wherever possible.

When a situation cannot be resolved, we are the business partners who can guide you through how a termination should take place. Terminating employees is never enjoyable, and if done badly can even lead to employees making legal claims for bad faith. We walk you through every small step, from preparing the documentation and the terminating letter to how to notify the employee and what next steps should be taken afterwards. We recognize that employment lawyers may sometimes be required (especially if the employee responds with a lawyer’s letter or claim), and can help bring an employment lawyer into the picture where they are needed to handle any legal disputes. 

We tell our clients that there are ‘no bad questions,’ and we mean it. Our business model puts us on retainer, so that you can pick up the phone at any given time without having to worry about us billing by the minute. In fact you should never be afraid to call us – if you’re questioning how to handle a given situation it’s always better to ask then to make an error trying it on your own. 

We recognize as HR professionals that the legal landscape is always changing. Even when we think that we may have ‘heard it all before,’ new situations will always arise that require a fresh perspective, or a unique approach. Throughout the pandemic, for example, we helped our clients quickly pivot into effective work-from-home people management, even when they had no previous policy infrastructure for that setup. We are up to speed on some of the latest issues (see our recent resources on vaccine policies and return-to-office planning) and are able to provide a customized perspective tailored specifically to your organization.

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Our job as outsourced HR professionals is to protect your business. We do this by offering solutions that save you as an employer time, money, and headaches. Hiring us as your business partner means that we can take some of those headaches off your plate, and provide custom-tailored advice for your business that won’t break your budget. 

Looking to learn more? Book a time below to connect with a member of our team.


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5 Important Ideas: Vaccines in the Workplace

5 Important Ideas: Vaccines in the Workplace

18 months ago, it might have been reasonable to think that the COVID-19 pandemic would last a few weeks (or months at most!). Also, we might have hoped that by staying indoors we would be able to get back to our normal lives shortly thereafter. 

We’ve come a long way and our definition of ‘normal’ has certainly changed. We now see that COVID-19 will impact the business decisions we make well into 2022 – and for who knows how long beyond that. Right now, companies of all sizes are wrestling with how to safely return their employees to the workplace – or whether to do so at all. 

There are no easy answers. News about the virus keeps changing, and employers – from multinational corporations to the federal and provincial governments – have rolled out policies that, while appearing firm today, may need an update tomorrow. 

Given all the change and uncertainty, our outsourced HR professionals compiled 5 key ideas that will help you navigate the uncharted terrain ahead.

covid vaccine and syringe
  1. Survey Your Team

We recently looked at the power of employee surveys as a tool to better understanding your team. They can be especially beneficial here, when many of your employees will be understandably nervous or concerned by a barrage of sometimes-conflicting news reports. Some employees may be ready to get out into the world and back into the office, while others will have understandable reservations. 

Survey your team members, and do so anonymously. Ask them how they feel, and where their comfort level is with returning to the workplace on either a full time or hybrid basis. Those answers should inform how you draft your policies and your return to work schedule. If a large percentage of your team is ready to return, start looking at a gradual return based on the advice of public health authorities in your area. If your employees are uniformly not ready to go back, you will need to look at options that jointly address their comfort and your business needs.

“There are certainly softer and more compassionate approaches available, such as permanent work from home or rigourous testing policies.”


woman standing up in front of colleagues during meeting and showing papers

2. Draft Your Policies Carefully

You’ve likely seen the news about some of the biggest employers instituting ‘mandatory’ vaccination policies. This is often misinterpreted as ‘forced’ vaccination policies, but there are important differences and you may want (or need) to clear the air with your team.

First, any mandatory vaccination policy must take into account the same human rights exemptions as any other workplace policy. The Province of Ontario recently launched firm guidelines as to who would qualify for a medically-based vaccine exemption, and naturally any discrimination for such an exemption is forbidden. Employees may also seek an exemption to such a vaccine policy for religious reasons, which – if granted – would be similarly valid and protected from discrimination.

The other question that will come up in drafting a vaccine policy is what to do with those employees who are unwilling to take the vaccine without a governmentally-validated exemption? Remember that mandatory vaccines do not mean ‘forced’ vaccines; no one can legally hold you down and jab you with a needle. 

Employers are in a tough spot as they decide how to handle their unvaccinated workers. In the extreme, it is true of most employees in Ontario that their employment can be terminated at any time – and for any reason – so long as they are paid severance. That said, there are certainly softer and more compassionate approaches available, such as permanent work from home setups or rigourous testing policies. This also allows flexibility for grey areas and cases not covered by our Human Rights Code but that could still merit accommodation. 

woman in collared shirt

3. Rights to Privacy

As an employer, the best advice for talking about vaccinations while in the workplace is to be very careful. A person’s vaccination status is private medical information, and employers have a duty not to disclose that to others. So even though it’s become a popular topic of conversation within most of our families and social circles, discussing vaccination status in a workplace can accidentally reveal information about an individual that by all rights should remain private.

Keep your employees’ vaccination status as private and discreet as possible, and strongly encourage them to do the same. Workplaces that have been promoting in advertisements that their teams are fully vaccinated may be well-intentioned, but unless they’ve received permission, they are unknowingly violating their employees’ right to privacy. Do not encourage discussions around sharing everyone’s vaccination status, and remind colleagues why doing so can be problematic. 

crop woman in mask passing through turnstile in metro

4. Vaccine Records are not the New Employee Swipe Card

Just as there is no truly mandatory vaccination policy, there is no mandatory unveiling of vaccination status by requiring a record of vaccination to enter the workplace. Ontario does have upcoming regulations for entering some spaces on September 22, 2021, but an individual’s medical information is still private – and they can always opt not to enter. 

As a matter of policy, we recommend that employees should not be made to show their vaccine record to enter the workplace through a check-point. There is just too much potential for revealing private information (however inadvertent) and even discrimination. There are other ways to verify entrance eligibility that will reduce risk and observe the right to privacy.

pile of white and black boxes

5. Accommodations are not One-Size-Fits-All

Think about how you plan to accommodate employees that are exempt from vaccinations. Will they be allowed to work from home permanently, or will they be allowed back into the workplace but subjected to regular testing? Will accommodations be available to those who are unwilling to take the shot, or will you be terminating those employees? Remember that the former group cannot be terminated for their exemption, but the latter group can while following regular applicable laws.

Working from home may be a reasonable accommodation in some situations, but moving some employees to a permanent work from home while making others return full-time may appear arbitrary to employees and can quickly breed resentment if not handled carefully. A carefully-crafted accommodation policy can help avoid these pitfalls, and a strategic review of the business will help determine exactly which employees are needed physically in the office and when. 

 

If this sounds complicated, that’s because it is! We have never dealt with such a widespread pandemic in this age of technology, and advice can change frequently under new legislation and changes in public health directives. 

Whatever happens though, our team is here to help. Our outsourced HR consultants serve as your fractional HR team, and can help guide you through this difficult terrain. Take a look at our calendar below to schedule time for an initial consultation. 


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Book a call with us to learn how we’re helping companies
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and score a ridiculous retention rate.

70 Percentage

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hire quality

59 Percentage

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21% - Castle HR

more
profitable

The 5 Keys to a Best-in-Class Interview Process

The 5 Keys to a Best-in-Class Interview Process

We recently did a deep dive on why it’s so important to hire for values over skills. But if you don’t have a great interview process to begin with, the candidates you want – the ones that share your values – are not going to accept your offers.

If only you could build a process that finds you the right people and has them scrambling to say yes…

Well, read on!

crop businessman giving contract to woman to sign
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com
  1. Transparency from the Start

Your candidates should know a fair bit about your process even before they apply. Why? It’s a natural filter to save your time and theirs. If your process takes 3 months and they need a start before then, no amount of interviews is going to make it a good fit. Or you may do rigorous reference checks, and candidates might need time to line those up. Think of this as a professional kindness.

Having a standardized process also shows that you’re limiting some biases. The opposite – a subjective flow – lets the interviewer decide who the candidate should speak to next, or possibly even to make the hiring decision right away. Stick to the process, and being transparent up front means you’re committed.

At Castle HR, we post our interview process directly as part of our job description. Candidates know exactly with whom they will be meeting at each stage so that they can do their homework. We also include a short description of each step and an estimate of the overall timeline.

“Scoring for values is the difference between a grocery list that says ‘get something for dinner’ and one that has an itemized list of ingredients for a four-course meal.”


flat lay photography of vegetable salad on plate

2. Value-Based Scorecards

This sounds simple, right? And using a scorecard should be – that’s the point. But how you create the scorecard is critical.

Scoring for your company’s values is the difference between a grocery list that says “get something for dinner” and one that has an itemized list of ingredients (with measurements!) for a four-course meal.

Interview scorecards – designed well – can also be a huge asset in removing bias. How you word your questions and how you teach your team to evaluate candidate responses cannot be neglected.

crop illustrator coloring apparel sketch at table

3. The “Show, Don’t Tell” Approach

Behavioural-style interview questions (“tell me about a time when you…”) are quickly moving out of fashion. They not only put candidates on the spot, they leave room for errors in memory and deception (no matter how well-intentioned).

Instead, design your process to have the candidate show you what they can do. The key here is to not ask for too much. They’re not working for free, after all.

Set a task that lets them show off their chops, and also allows for some creativity. This is a great opportunity to align the conversation around your values, too; a fun-loving team might put a goofy spin on the task so you can’t help but laugh together. Does the person take it way too seriously? Maybe they aren’t the best fit.

multiethnic colleagues discussing contract on paper

4. Empower Your People

This could arguably be titled, “Let decisions happen.” Don’t overcomplicate by requiring sign off from every executive unless the role really calls for that. Decide in advance who’s making the decision, and then let them.

A surefire way to lose a promising candidate is to leave them waiting, and waiting, and waiting. If the person who would decide is going to be on vacation, you should be able to know that in advance and deputize someone else.

This not only makes for a more efficient process that doesn’t trip and stumble over preventable details, it shows candidates that you’re serious about them! They’ll also see that you’re a company that trusts the people they hire. You want them thinking, “the CEO was away, but clearly has a lot of faith in their team – I want to be a part of that!”

brown and clear hour glass

5. Trust in the Process

When you build a good process it will find you quality candidates.

Earlier this year we released a video about eliminating ‘interview insecurity,’ where you think you’ve found the perfect candidate, but you just want to meet 5 more to see how they measure up.

Then suddenly that perfect candidate gets snatched up by your competition because they didn’t hesitate! This paralysis-by-analysis is a great way to lose skilled talent.

 

It’s time to sit back and let your interview process do its thing. That’s why you put so much effort into it, right?


Our fractional HR team is here to help guide you in creating a stellar interview process. Contact us today to learn how we can help.

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4 Steps to Harness the Power of Employee Surveys

4 Steps to Harness the Power of Employee Surveys

Make no mistake – your employees are talking. They’re speaking with each other after hours, behind closed doors, on private message threads, and during weekend hangouts. They’re sharing with each other their individual perspective on some things your business is doing right, and everything that they think your business is doing wrong.

As an employer, wouldn’t it be nice to know what they’re saying? You want to know what’s working, and what could be better. Unhappy employees means lost productivity and spikes in turnover costs. But unless you provide a channel for honest communication direct to your leadership team, they’ll probably just keep talking to each other.

Enter the survey. It’s not a revolutionary tool, but when you do these 4 steps you’ll get great results.

woman wearing teal dress sitting on chair talking to man
Photo by Jopwell on Pexels.com
  1. Understand the Why, the When, and the How

Why: Think of a workplace survey like a doctor’s check-up for your team. While you may not think of going to the doctor if you don’t feel that anything is wrong, you truly never know what is happening beneath the surface. Regular medical check-ups can catch the beginnings of serious problems and allow you to take action before a problem spirals out of control.

The same is true of employee surveys.

Employee surveys are where you can truly get a sense of your employees’ happiness and their level of satisfaction with the company. 

When: Numerous large organizations with thousands of workers routinely run at least an annual survey, wherein employees are questioned about their level of job satisfaction and even their likelihood of recommending the workplace for other applicants. Smaller teams have even more flexibility, and can easily do routine surveys (twice a year, or even quarterly) to gauge employee satisfaction and measure the improvement over each interval. 

How: Employee surveys should always be conducted anonymously. Just as you feel comfortable discussing your private medical concerns with a doctor because you’re assured of their discretion, employees should feel comfortable discussing their concerns about the workplace without fear of public exposure and humiliation. While some of the feedback may be a tough pill to swallow, it’s important that your team has a confidential outlet to voice their honest opinions. 

Employees can often be wary of surveys, and this is mainly for two reasons. The first is the concern about anonymity. Even if you promise confidentiality, there may still be some team members who will worry about being ‘discovered’ and penalized for providing honest feedback. The surprise for most employers is that negative – and even positive – feedback, does not always come from the places that you would expect. The employees who appear to be the most ‘happy-go-lucky’ may be the most comfortable expressing their frustrations anonymously, and the quietest employees may actually be the most satisfied.

“As an employer, the most important thing you can do with a survey is take it seriously. Set an action plan that responds to the feedback received, both positive and negative.”


white paper with note

2. Make an Action Plan and Communicate It

Some employees have given feedback before, only to see nothing come of it. They may have come from a workplace that routinely did a workplace engagement survey, but never actioned any of the concerns employees raised during the process. Without solid action that the team knows about, surveys will quickly lose their power. After all, how many times would you be willing to give your opinion when you know it won’t be counted?

As an employer, the most important thing that you can do with an employee survey is take it seriously. Set an action plan that responds to the feedback received, both positive and negative. Discuss the feedback received with senior leadership, and review what changes and improvements in process and facilities may be required. 

Then, share your plan with the team. This reinforces that they have been heard and that their voices count. It also creates a layer of accountability for leadership to complete the forecasted changes.

Employees will not expect everything to change overnight, and they will be far more receptive to the process when they can see the road ahead.

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3. Start Somewhere. (E.g. “Return to Office“)

If you like the idea of conducting a survey but are unsure where to start, try asking employees about their thoughts on returning to the office. We recently wrote about how to return to the office successfully and offered employers some helpful tips and tricks. Even if you’ve already begun sketching out your plans for a large-scale return, a short anonymous email survey can tell you honestly if your employees are excited, reluctant, or even hesitant about the idea. 

Create some multiple choice questions and short-answer ones, so you can gather quantifiable data and also let your team communicate on their terms. Multiple choice questions will show you some great data slices like what percentage of the time your team would feel comfortable returning to the office, and when. Short-answers will give people the chance to express their ideas more fully, including on topics you could not have predicted.

Data from this survey is instrumental for guiding your return to office strategy. If you envision a full return in the coming weeks and then learn that your employees are still hesitant to be working indoors, you’re effectively setting your team up for an unhappy experience. Instead, make sure employees know that you are listening to their concerns and that you are making best efforts to build in flexibility while maintaining a safe and productive workplace – wherever that may be. 

round silver colored chronograph watch
  1. Set – and stick to! – a Cadence for Surveys

With our clients, we always recommend running employee engagement surveys at least every 6 months. For us, they’re as helpful as a doctor taking your temperature or blood pressure. Quantifiable data points over time show us trends in progress and opportunities alike. 

The combination of a regular schedule and visible results empower employees to open up, and often they report emerging issues that can be addressed before they become something bigger.

This is the power of the survey.


Our team of fractional HR professionals routinely helps our clients run surveys effectively, and develop a strategy for how to implement the resulting feedback. As outsourced HR, our arm’s length approach allows us to really look inward, and help you assess what may need changing, and when those changes should be a priority. We love nothing more than seeing employee satisfaction scores climb year over year, since at the end of the day we’re only as happy as our clients, and they are only as happy as their team members. Contact us today to set up a consultation and to learn more about how we can help.

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How to Successfully Return Your Team to the Office

How to Successfully Return Your Team to the Office

If you’re an owner or manager in your business, you may have been back to the office at least a few times (or even regularly) over the past 16 months. Some owners dropped in weekly just to check mail and water the plants. Others headed in more regularly to escape the distractions of working from home, or simply because they felt they needed to make use of the space they were committed to renting.

Most other team members though have likely been working from home since March of last year, and many have decidedly mixed feelings about going back to the office now that vaccination rates are high. Some employees have expressed concerns about health and safety, and how to handle unvaccinated coworkers. Others are dreading the idea of returning to a regular commute, and the rigors that come with an inflexible daytime schedule. 

Several of our clients have made the decision during the pandemic to permanently surrender their office space, and have transitioned to a permanently remote-work model. Others though are grappling with how to plan a safe and effective return to office strategy. Here are a few tips and tricks to make your difficult planning process a little bit smoother.

green leafed plants
Photo by Marc Mueller on Pexels.com

Listen to your team’s concerns

Because return to office planning has been difficult to pin down due to the changing public guidelines, your team members are likely confused, scared, and generally on edge. The surest way to aggravate a difficult situation is to thrust the decision upon them without any consultation or input.

Instead, see if you can make the planning a collaborative process within your team. You may still dream of a full-scale return, but that will likely have to happen in slow increments in order to be successful. Survey your team members, have private conversations, and ask them directly what it would take to make them comfortable enough to return to the office. You may not be able to incorporate every idea put forth, but you’ll likely hear some excellent ones that will only serve to improve the working environment as you work your way back.

Also, one final tip on that note – don’t call it ‘return to work.’ Return to work is a legal term for those coming back from a layoff, and for any team members who were formally laid off then it would actually be a return to work. Most of your staff though have likely been working from home almost the entire pandemic while simultaneously juggling health and family responsibilities, so the phrase ‘return to work’ suggests that they’ve been on one long extended vacation. Nothing could be further from the truth.

“Employees will catch on quickly if they feel that a ‘collaborative process’ is just paying lip service. Ignoring suggestions outright will only harm office morale…”


man in red polo shirt thought a good idea

Implement those good suggestions

Listening to your team is helpful, but employees will catch on quickly if they feel that a ‘collaborative process’ is just paying lip service. Ignoring those employee suggestions outright will only harm office morale, and lead to employees believing that their concerns aren’t being taken seriously.

Employees likely have good reasons for wanting to implement some sort of hybrid or flexible office/home model. While employers are required to accommodate employees who have significant child or elder care obligations with no other reasonable workaround, many employees have likely amended their living situations during the pandemic in order to better balance work and home life in general. Some have even taken advantage of the hot real estate market and moved further out of the city since they’ve begun working exclusively from home.

See how many of the suggestions are actually feasible to implement, even if they’re better suited for a later date. Your employees will be more inclined to stick with a company that they know is sticking with them.

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Focus on Health and Safety First

Even if all COVID-19 mandated protocols are suddenly lifted, it would be foolhardy to rush headfirst back into full occupancy. The initial mandated maximums will likely be at a 50% of office capacity, and even those should be heeded with caution.

Take the extra time to plan out your physical space. Make sure that employees can sufficiently distance from each other, and that contact is minimized unless necessary. Rules may be amended to allow employees to eat at their desks so that they are sufficiently distanced, or even recommend off site dining until conditions improve. Mask mandates should still be encouraged to avoid unnecessary transmission. Lastly, confirm with property management that the premises will be cleaned thoroughly on a regular basis to help allay employee’s fears.  

cheerful asian girl sitting under mother practicing yoga at home

Stay flexible!

 We all learned lessons over the past year and a half about workplace flexibility. Practically overnight we improvised home offices, shuffled our schedules, upended our social lives to move entirely virtually, and learned that nature has crazy ways of breaking our rigid plans.

That flexibility will be just as important in returning to an office. Scientists are already speaking about a likely fourth wave of infections this Fall, even though it’s predicted to be smaller and less catastrophic given our high vaccination rates. Even still, infections will continue, so flexibility means planning around the fact that employees may be off for several days because they or a relative have contracted the virus. Flexibility also means that provincial guidelines may change, and capacity regulations may increase or decrease accordingly. It is well worth having several plans in place in order to account for a variety of scenarios.

Lastly, when it comes to the vaccine, privacy is paramount.

Canada has benefitted from great adherence, but the reality is that not everyone will receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Some have religious objections, others are medically inadmissible, and others may be refusing for personal reasons. 

The law is still being ironed out when it comes to this specific vaccine, and it may take a few years still for cases to move through the legal system. Generally speaking though, employers should tread cautiously when it comes to implementing vaccine policies that would attempt to either mandate vaccines, or punish those who don’t receive them. Exceptions must always be made on human rights grounds, including disability and religious freedoms, but there are greater concerns as well. Courts have generally ruled in similar situations that such policies are only acceptable in safety-sensitive workplaces, and an office environment will likely not meet that threshold. 

Instead, keep doing what you’ve done so far – encourage employees to get vaccinated, and offer them ample opportunity to do so. If an employee is unable to receive the vaccine and concerned about working from an office, examine if working from home or some other protections may be reasonably available. Employers are required to accommodate employees on the grounds of disability and must do so discreetly, so set up an HR consultation with one of our team members if you need any guidance on making these arrangements.

Return to office planning isn’t an easy task, but we are here and ready to help. Our fractional HR team is available to serve as your HR professionals. We can offer guidance on how to best re-integrate your team into the office environment while focusing on keeping everyone safe and secure. Remember, in-person collaboration may be beneficial to your company, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of health, safety, or team morale. Contact us today to set up a consultation.


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