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The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally altered the way the world operates. Many Canadians would agree that one of the most profound changes has been to the labour market and the way in which we work.

Labour shortages have always been a challenge for businesses, and the pandemic has only exacerbated these issues. The current labour shortage has made a huge impact on Ontario businesses, forcing many to permanently close their doors. Many Ontario employers are finding there are not enough workers to satisfy the needs of their businesses.

It is not only the availability of workers which is at issue. The recruitment and retention of skilled employees is also an obstacle that many employers face. It isn’t surprising that throughout the pandemic, jobs that once required in-person interaction have largely disappeared. The number of Canadian employees that now work from home has substantially increased. Remote working has become a mainstream practice, and many employees are preferring their new working arrangements.

As health restrictions start to ease and businesses start to reopen, many employers are finding it difficult to entice employees back to their old jobs. It is those employers that have not been able to adapt to a work-from-home model that are suffering the most. Employers in the retail and hospitality industries have especially experienced a hard time attracting workers to back positions that require them to work in-person from the workplace.

High employee turnover rates is another problem that persists. Common reasons for employees leaving the workplace include low wages, lack of opportunities for advancement and dissatisfaction with management and/or workplace culture. The cost and time involved in hiring and training new employees can be burdensome. If employers want to recruit and retain a more stable workforce, they should start by improving wages and working conditions. Types of incentives that may be offered include competitive wages, stable shifts, enhanced benefits, paid sick/personal days, and improved training and safety. Employers should also provide mentoring and career development opportunities.

As employees are being welcomed back to the physical workplace, now is the best time for employers to implement new employment contracts. A new legislation has been proposed by the Ontario government that provides a host of labour-friendly policies, including a ban on non-compete clauses. Employers may soon be forced to remove these clauses from their employment contracts. The omnibus legislation also proposes a right for employees to disconnect, requiring employers with 25 or more employees to develop disconnecting from work policies.

Employers should also consider the benefits of conducting regular performance reviews and offering regular salary increases, as a strategy to keep good employees. All employee incentives should be clearly stated in the employment contract.

The pandemic has underscored the importance of good communication in the workplace. Maintaining strong relationships between management and employees is good way for employers to create more motivated, productive and loyal employees. Employees should feel comfortable coming to their employer with ideas, questions and concerns at any time. This is especially vital for those essential workers that carry a greater risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus.

While employee burnout is not new in the workplace, it’s a problem that has worsened during the pandemic. One way for employers to alleviate employee burnout is by offering more flexible work arrangements. Where feasible, employers should consider the possibility of allowing employees to continue working remotely. While there are undeniable benefits for in-person work, many employees appreciate the flexibility of being able to work from home and improve their work-life balance. It’s evident that the traditional 9 to 5 job isn’t what is driving employees anymore. Flexible work arrangements are proving to be critical in hiring and retaining employees.

Offering legal accommodation under Ontario’s Human Rights Code is another important measure that employers should be taking for employees with human rights-based needs. Accommodation can often be provided without the employer incurring any additional costs. For example, a more flexible work schedule might be the appropriate solution or accommodation to offer an employee with child or elder care responsibilities. 

Employers must also take care to ensure they support their employees’ mental health. Many Canadians have reported experiencing poorer mental health than ever before. It is therefore critical for employers to offer resources and employee assistance programs to members of its workforce. Employers should also ensure that their employees feel engaged and connected so as to avoid feeling isolated.

Employers can also help boost their skilled workforce by seeking out talent from an international pool of candidates. By creating a path for foreign workers to fully apply their skills, employers may reach new markets and receive the benefit of diverse perspectives and experiences.

The COVID-19 pandemic is not surprisingly a major factor for why many workers are rethinking their current employment situation. As we continue to adapt to the realities of this global pandemic, investment in creating a talented pool of loyal employees should be a top priority for employers.

This article is provided for general information purposes and should not be considered a legal opinion. Clients are advised to obtain legal advice based on their specific situations.

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