Rolling out Effective Workplace Policies

Workplace policies can play a critical role in establishing clear and consistent rules and practices in the workplace. Effective workplace policies help manage employees' expectations and reduce the risk of confusion or unfair treatment. In turn, this can result in saved time, enhanced productivity, and an increase in employee morale.

However, outdated or unclear workplace policies are of limited use. To reap the benefits of workplace policies, it is important that they are properly drafted, implemented, and updated when required. In this blog post we outline some of the relevant considerations for developing and administering effective workplace policies.

1. Determine the Policy

The first step is to determine whether a workplace policy should be developed. Certain workplace policies are mandatory in Ontario. Other policies are optional but may nevertheless be useful tools for managing the workplace.

Mandatory Policies:

In Ontario, there are a number of workplace policies that employers may be legally required to implement. These currently include:

  • Occupational health and safety policy. Pursuant to Ontario's Occupational Health and Safety Act ("OHSA") employers with five or more workers must prepare and review a least annually a written occupational health and safety policy and develop a program to implement the policy.
  • Violence prevention policy. Under the OHSA, employers with five or more workers must prepare a written policy with respect to workplace violence, review it at least annually, and post it in a conspicuous place
  • Harassment prevention policy. Under the OHSA, employers with five or more workers must also prepare a written policy with respect to workplace harassment, review it at least annually, and post it in a conspicuous place. It is common for employers to develop one document that includes the required health and safety, workplace violence and workplace harassment policies.
  • Accessibility policy. Employers are also required to develop and implement accessibility policies and plans pursuant to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. The exact requirements vary depending on the size of the employer, however, all employers are required to have accessibility policies.
  • Pay equity policy. Private Ontario employers with more than 100 employees must have a pay equity plan in place pursuant to the Pay Equity Act.
  • COVID-19 safety plan. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, all employers that are operating in Ontario currently must have a written COVID-19 safety plan.

Employers may also be required to post or provide employees with copies of informational posters pursuant to Ontario's employment standards legislation, occupational health and safety laws, and workplace insurance legislation, amongst others.

Optional Policies:

In addition to the mandatory policies and plans, there are numerous workplace policies that may be beneficial for employers to implement. These may include anti-discrimination, diversity and inclusion policies, privacy policies, social media policies, and drug and alcohol testing policies, amongst many others. Employers are encouraged to consult with an employment lawyer about what policies may be appropriate for their workplace.

2. Prepare the Policy

Once the decision is made to develop a policy, it is important to carefully prepare a policy that is clear and understandable to employees and in accordance with applicable laws.

Generally, policies will include the following sections:

  • Purpose. The policy should set out the purpose of the policy. Why the policy is being implemented should be evident to employees. This will help justify the implementation of a new policy and encourage employee buy-in.
  • Application. The policy should clearly establish who it does and does not apply to.
  • Specific Provisions. From there, the policy will include specific provisions relating to the subject matter of the policy.
  • Enforcement/Consequences. Outline how the policy will be enforced and/or the consequences for not complying with the policy.
  • Renewal/Revision. This section set outs that the policy may be renewed, revised and/or revoked by the employer in its discretion.

The exact provisions and sections required for a workplace policy, however, will largely depend on the topic and purpose of the policy.

3. Publish the Policy

After the policy has been prepared, affected employees should be provided with a copy of the policy in advance of it taking effect. The appropriate amount of advanced notice will depend on the provisions of the policy and the extent to which they impact employees' duties, responsibilities and/or benefits.

If the policy changes any employment rights, such as vacation or overtime entitlements, or imposes new duties on employees, employers should provide affected employees with reasonable time to review and consider the changes. Failure to provide employees with sufficient advanced notice of the change could result in an increased risk of employees bringing constructive dismissal claims.

On the other hand, if the policy simply codifies an employer's existing practices, for example with respect to diversity and inclusion, or is mandated by law, it may not be necessary to provide employees with as much advanced notice.

It is important that the new policy is distributed to all affected employees in a manner that will ensure it is brought to their attention. For example, if employees don't regularly review their work e-mail accounts, provide hardcopies. In some cases, it may be appropriate to ask employees to sign and return an acknowledgement, confirming receipt and/or agreement to the policy.

4. Enforce the Policy

It is important that workplace policies are followed. A policy is only useful if it is adhered to by the employer and employees alike. For employees, this means ensuring they are aware of applicable policies and adhering to any requirements outlined in the policies. For employers, this means enforcing policy compliance consistently and in accordance with the terms of the policy itself. Failure to enforce the policy in a consistent and timely manner may impact the enforceability of the policy.

5. Review and Revise the Policy

As both laws and social principles evolve, employers are encouraged to regularly review and revise their policies as required. Where changes are made to a policy, employers should provide employees with notice of the change, and where appropriate, ask them to sign an acknowledgement.


Properly prepared and implemented workplace policies can be handy tools for employers and employees alike. For employers, they provide an opportunity to establish clear rules and expectations for the workplace. For employees, they can be a useful source of information relating to the terms of their employment.

In either case, seeking legal advice on the implications of rolling out or accepting a new workplace policy is encouraged. Lee Workplace Law would be happy to advise on how a workplace policy may impact your legal rights and obligations.