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Individual Employment Relationships

At one time, there was a standard set of rules that governed the workplace where you were employed. Sometimes these rules were codified in an employment contract or in the terms of a collective agreement. Other times, it was as simple as a letter of offer that stipulated the address where you were supposed to show up and how much you would get paid. When you arrived, they told you what time to come to work and when to take your lunch and coffee breaks. You were also informed if you were entitled to vacation and if you were lucky, maybe a few sick days a year.

Brian W. Pascal
In many workplaces today, there are HR policies and manuals that specify an employee’s entitlement to a myriad of company perks and benefits. In some organizations, the arrangements between employees and their employers are much more flexible. Perhaps in response to a changing demographic and the needs of younger employees, some employers are taking a much more casual approach to the relationship between an organization and their workforce. Employers may want to encourage certain groups of workers like young mothers to feel welcome and continue to maintain their connection with their organization during their child raising years.

In these organizations, almost everything from compensation to work location and career progression is individualized and open to discussion between the parties. The total compensation package may have a fixed limit, but even that may be subject to performance indicators such as incentives or bonuses based on an employee successfully reaching certain targets. In Canada, the only real limitations on this process are human rights and labour legislation that specify certain minimum requirements.

These standards cover areas such as minimum wages, maximum working hours and statutory holidays. Human Rights legislation deals with individual rights to protection from harassment and discrimination. It is important to note that these regulations and legislation override any terms in an individual employment contract which are contrary to it. Otherwise, an employer and an employee can negotiate and come to agreement on any other matter involving their employment.

Hours of work are a good example. Many employers now have a core set of hours that they would like to have staff group together in the workplace. People can come in as early as they want and leave as late as is convenient, as long they are there for the minimum number of hours. Some employers are giving their staff, especially technical or creative employees, even more latitude by allowing them to ignore the core hour system and come when they can best do their work, even if it’s not convenient for employers. Why not? As long they are productive, it works for everyone.

Many organizations also now allow teleworking and remote location work arrangements. As long as there is Wi-Fi and the employee isn’t required to be at the front of the operation, it is easy to track an employee’s time and progress. For some jobs, it makes good sense for the employer to grant this request. In some organizations, employees can bring their children along to work with them, provided they are not a disturbance or distraction to the employee or anyone else. Even more common now is theworkplace where you can bring Fido or little Fluff Ball to work. I wouldn’t particularly support this, but some employers don’t mind and think that it’s a scheme that helps build loyalty and dedication from their employees.

It is actually in the area of compensation and benefits that shows how much the workplace has changed when it comes to the formal relationship between employer and employee. Where once there was a fixed benefit plan that provided a set of defined leave, benefits and salary with a pension plan waiting for you when you retire, an employee can now negotiate all of these items within a broad parameter. Cafeteria style benefits are certainly in vogue and these allow employees to tailor their group insured benefits to meet their specific needs.

Leave with or without pay used to be limited to vacation based on seniority, a few sick days a year if you were hospitalized and time off to attend a family funeral. Today, many employers offer each employee a leave bank where they can accumulate leave and make withdrawals from, similar to going to the ATM. There may be fewer pensions and pension plans these days, but almost everyone is offering an RRSP option plan where the employer will match almost as much as an employee can save.

Some of these items and issues are not new, but it seems to me that we have never had such a preponderance of choice when it came to working conditions. I do support most of it with the exception of bringing the pets to work option. I can’t seem to get my head around how this would really work for everyone. I am definitely pleased to see so many available options and that the workers and employers of today and especially tomorrow can make these choices.


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