If you are a small business or you are the head of human resources for your company, chances are you try to handle most employment matters on your own. From time to time you may contact the Employment Standards Branch for advice about things like overtime or vacation pay, or you may even research articles on the internet, but there are times when there is no substitute for good legal advice. In these situations I like to say that calling a lawyer is like buying insurance. Good advice from a lawyer who practices in the field of employment law helps eliminate risk to the company and in many cases will actually save the company money instead of costing it money. So, when should you really seek legal advice before taking action? Below is my list of the Top 5 Employer Pitfalls where legal advice could have saved an employer’s backside:
- Firing someone for cause.
- Firing someone on medical or maternity leave (regardless of the reason for firing).
- Firing someone and thinking you only have to pay them employment standards severance amounts (doing this without advice is particularly problematic for long-term employees, but also short-term, high salary employees).
- Making significant changes to an employee’s position or compensation scheme without the employee’s consent or cooperation.
- Hiring someone, particularly a high paid employee, without a proper written employment contract that limits the company’s obligations on termination and protects the best interests of the company (intellectual property, right to compete, right to solicit clients, etc.).
In each of the forgoing situations, if they are not handled correctly, they can result in legal action and significant financial cost to the company. Of course, these are not the only situations where it is a good idea to get legal advice. If you find yourself second guessing whether or not you are doing it right or you hold your breath and hope for the best, then it is probably a good idea to seek some advice before taking those next steps.
Author: Keri Thompson Grenier
*Important Note: The information contained in this column should not be treated by readers as legal advice and should not be relied on without detailed legal counsel being sought.