Legislative Compliance

The Ultimate Guide to HR and Compliance in Canada

January 2, 2024

Does the word “compliance” prompt unease instead of reassurance? The word is so broad, it’s hard to know where to even begin. In HR, compliance holds a specific meaning but has many applications. This can confuse even seasoned professionals, so we’re here to help make the process a lot easier. Read on for a brief overview of what you need to know as an HR professional to understand compliance and keep your organization running smoothly.

Table of contents

  • What is compliance in HR?
  • What’s the difference between an act and a regulation?
  • Employment standards
  • Occupational health and safety
  • Human rights
  • Pay equity
  • Accessibility
  • Common HR compliance issues
  • Consequences for noncompliance
  • How to achieve organizational compliance
  • HR technology for every compliance need
  • What is HR Compliance?

    In HR, compliance describes how aligned your organization’s policies and procedures are to applicable laws and regulations. But legislation is dense and sometimes difficult to interpret. That’s where things can get tricky, and your list of to-dos can pile up.

    The first step to achieving compliance is knowing which laws and regulations govern your organization. It all depends on your jurisdiction. Federally regulated workplaces must abide by federal laws and regulations, such as the Canada Labour Code. While some federal legislation applies to all organizations, including Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL), workplaces not governed by federal laws generally follow provincial or territorial legislation. If you have employees working from multiple jurisdictions, you may need to consult more than one jurisdiction’s laws and regulations. There are also municipal laws, industry-specific regulations, and common law considerations that may affect your workplace.

    Once you refer to applicable legislation to understand your requirements and obligations, you must create policies, practices, and training that ensure every employee in your organization knows and follows your guidelines. Certain legislation may also require you to provide specific types of policies, such as policies to prevent and address workplace violence and harassment. Not only do you have to set up your organization for success by creating policies, you also must enforce what you put on paper.

    What’s the difference between an act and a regulation?

    As you read through applicable legislation, you’ll encounter both acts and regulations. Acts usually contain more general requirements, while regulations give more specific requirements and things you should do or have. For example, an act might require certain organizations to implement a policy on a particular topic, while a regulation might list the information that must be included in that policy. Ensure you follow both acts and regulations to stay compliant, as they carry the same legal weight.

    Acts and regulations change. Be aware of changing legislation in order to maintain compliance. Acts go through a legislative process and often take time to come into effect. Regulations, on the other hand, may change with little or no notice. Our Compliance Centre shares timely news and legislation updates, including important dates, suggested actions, and resources to help you make any required changes within your organization. You may also find recent changes on some government websites.

    Below are a few legislated areas you should be aware of. This is not an exhaustive list, but it will help you start understanding HR’s role in compliance.

    Employment standards

    Employment standards legislation sets minimum requirements for hours of work, pay, time off, protected leaves, terminations, and more. It also describes the rights and responsibilities of both employees and employers in a particular jurisdiction.

    Terminations are one of the most heavily legislated areas of employment, and not following employment standards when terminating can put your organization at risk of legal and financial consequences. Download our free termination resources to ensure you remain compliant with employment standards when letting an employee go.

    Employment standards legislation may also require employers to post certain information in their workplaces, or otherwise communicate that information to workers. For example, Ontario employers governed by the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA) must also distribute an employment standards poster to all employees, though it is no longer required to be posted in the workplace.

    Occupational health and safety

    At its core, occupational health and safety legislation ensures employers provide employees with safe work environments. Each workplace has its own set of unique hazards. Workplace hazard assessments should be completed at least annually to assess your workplace for potential hazards and the risks associated with them. As an employer, you must control or eliminate these hazards where you can. Communicate and train employees on the hazards they may face in the workplace and how they can control or mitigate them with personal protective equipment and other measures.

    Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS)

    Many employees must work with substances that are considered hazardous materials. Employees should know how to handle these substances in compliance with WHMIS. All employees should take WHMIS training to learn about the safe handling of hazardous materials, how to use safety data sheets, and the hazardous material emergency procedures in their workplaces. Let us help you stay WHMIS compliant with resources designed to keep your workers safe.

    Employee rights

    Employees also have rights about their safety in the workplace: the right to know, the right to participate, and the right to refuse unsafe work.

    Additional requirements

    Occupational health and safety legislation may also require you to implement specific initiatives. For example, certain types of workplaces throughout Canada may be required to have a health and safety committee or a health and safety representative. These committees rely on employee participation to enforce the internal responsibility system (IRS) and deal with various health and safety issues. Legislation includes requirements for how to form the committee, how regularly it should meet, and the roles and responsibilities of each committee member.

    You can also help keep employees aware and safe by publishing informational resources. Applicable legislation may require you to post health and safety materials (like posters) around the workplace.

    Human rights

    Human rights legislation ensures everyone (including foreign workers and equity-deserving groups) in Canada has equal opportunity to live the life they want and have their needs met. Unfortunately, unaddressed systemic issues in workplaces and elsewhere in society exist and continue to keep individuals from achieving these goals.

    Human rights are protected by legislation in each of Canada’s jurisdictions. In general, provincial and territorial human rights legislation is similar to the federal Canadian Human Rights Act. This act prohibits discrimination on the basis of protected characteristics, including:

    • Race;
    • National or ethnic origin;
    • Colour;
    • Religion;
    • Age;
    • Sex;
    • Sexual orientation;
    • Gender identity or expression;
    • Marital status;
    • Family status; and
    • Disability.

    All human rights legislation prohibits discrimination in employment, while most human rights legislation also prohibits discrimination in services, accommodation, contracts, and memberships. Employees across Canada have the right to work in an environment free from discrimination. Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) programs help instill these values at every level of their organization.


    Equality and equity are two different things. Equality refers to everyone being treated the exact same way and given the same resources. Equity doesn’t necessarily result in everyone receiving equal amounts; instead, it considers each person’s unique situations and gives individuals what they need to reach an equal outcome.

    When an employee has a protected characteristic that affects their ability to meet a standard or requirement at work, the employer has a duty to accommodate. Accommodation means modifying an employee’s work arrangements or job duties so the employee can perform their job effectively every day. For example, an employee with a disability may require a modified work schedule in order to attend medical appointments. Employers must request specific documentation and follow a standard process in order to meet requests for reasonable accommodation.

    Pay equity

    Job duties vary, but work of the same value should be compensated equitably. Some jurisdictions have pay equity legislation that requires fair compensation. For example, Canada’s Pay Equity Act requires federal employers to offer equal pay for work of equal value. These employers must pay female-dominated jobs at least the same as male-dominated jobs if these jobs are of comparable value. This responsibility can seem daunting, but we have a five-step process to evaluate and implement pay equity in your workplace:

    1. Plan and form a pay equity committee.
    2. Identify job classes in your workplace and determine existing gender predominance and job rates for each job class.
    3. Determine the value of each job class. Consider factors like the required skills, effort (physical and mental), level of responsibility, and working conditions.
    4. Compare job classes for discrepancies between the value of the work and job rates.
    5. Take measures to achieve pay equity without lowering the job rate of a given class. This step is best done in consultation with HR experts.

    These steps and more guidance are available in our Pay Equity Evaluation Guide. Talk to us about receiving this and other compliance-related documents in our catalogue of HR resources.

    Equal pay for equal work

    Ontario’s ESA also imposes a standard that complements but is separate from pay equity called “equal pay for equal work.” Under the ESA, Ontario employers cannot pay employees differently on the basis of sex when they perform substantially the same work. Many jurisdictions have implemented similar rules through their human rights legislation.


    The Accessible Canada Act is federal legislation that builds on Canada’s human rights framework and supports equality for people with disabilities. Some provinces have passed their own legislation to improve accessibility in areas like workplaces, restaurants, and retail stores. Ontario was the first to pass its provincial standards under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA). This act establishes and enforces accessibility standards so that goods, services, facilities, and more are accessible to Ontarians with disabilities. Ontario employers should be aware of these standards and how they can achieve AODA compliance.

    Common HR compliance issues

    Noncompliance comes in many forms, but here are a few common examples you may have seen and are critical to correct.

    Job postings

    Job postings should only include requirements that reasonably and necessarily relate to the job. A job posting does not comply with human rights and employment legislation if it includes irrelevant or unnecessary qualifications or requirements, such as a requirement for repetitive lifting that is not part of the job duties but rather intended to exclude candidates with disabilities.

    Interview questions

    When recruiting top talent, it’s important that you keep compliance in mind to treat candidates with respect and promote a positive brand identity. Like job postings, interview questions should only ask the candidate to speak to job-related skills and requirements listed in the job description. Any comments on the employee’s physical appearance, voice, or any protected characteristics are inappropriate and could be considered discriminatory.

    Worker classifications

    A worker’s classification affects every area of the employment relationship, including how they are paid, whether they can use company resources and facilities, and whether they can simultaneously complete projects for other companies. Misclassifying workers can lead to legal disputes and mismanagement.

    Consequences for noncompliance

    Employer violations and offences under any applicable legislation can lead to several penalties. Under Ontario’s ESA, for example, violations may lead to:

    • A compliance order in which the employer or someone else must take steps to comply with the provision;
    • An order to reinstate or compensate an employee, if the contravention affected an employee’s rights; and
    • A fine, notice of contravention, or other penalty.

    The penalty given to the employer generally depends on the nature, circumstances, extent, and gravity of the violation in question. Whether the employer intentionally committed the violation and whether they have a history of previous violations will also affect their penalty. Repeated or continual violations are usually penalized more harshly. Other legislation often contains similar penalty provisions. In HR, you must ensure you perform regular compliance audits and correct any gaps to avoid these penalties.

    How to achieve organizational compliance

    Achieve compliance by being aware of your obligations, communicating with employees, creating and enforcing policies and procedures, delivering required training, and staying up to date on legislative changes.

    1. Create a compliance culture

    Compliance is everyone’s responsibility, but you need to create an environment where everyone feels accountable for and empowered to make good decisions, like following company policies and reporting issues. This means that compliance values are inherited at every level of the organization and are written into mission statements and company goals. Employees often look to senior management to lead by example, so empower leaders to champion compliance and practise values (like DEIB) consistently.

    2. Communicate with and educate employees

    Employees can only follow the rules they know about. Communicate expectations through company polices and train employees on standard practices and how to respond to compliance issues (like workplace hazards). Leaders should also be fully trained on how to handle employee complaints and workplace investigations so they can restore order to the workplace.

    Document your policies in one location and make employees aware of how to access them. Provide policies in accessible formats so all employees can access them. From time to time, you may need to update policies, procedures, and training to reflect changes in legislation and your work environment. Communicate these changes to affected employees as soon as possible and share how their work could alter because of these changes.

    3. Create safe reporting procedures

    Employees learn quickly that reporting issues leads to either positive organizational change or punitive measures. If management reacts harshly to complaints, employees are less likely to report issues in the future, which can accumulate into layered, unaddressed compliance issues. Ensure employees feel safe approaching their leaders about their concerns and guarantee that they will not receive any form of reprisal for reporting a complaint in good faith.

    On the other hand, employees who violate company policies also may not learn from progressive discipline alone. Encourage employees to learn from their mistakes whenever possible by focussing on how they can fix problems instead of assigning blame. This way, they feel empowered to make better choices in the future and become advocates for compliance in the workplace, instead of learning to hide their faults or neglect reporting errors.

    4. Design and enforce policies

    As mentioned earlier, compliance doesn’t end with you stating employee expectations and guidelines. Organizations must enforce policies and ensure they correct issues before they lead to systemic problems. Additionally, every level of the organization should be held accountable. This means that reporting and progressive discipline need to be fairly delivered to employees and leaders alike.

    HR technology for every compliance need

    You’ve got a lot on your plate. Between filing employee documents, recruiting top talent, overseeing the performance review process, planning employee engagement initiatives, and so much more, HR has become an exciting but often overwhelming role. Almost all HR leaders agree that HR is too much work, and the majority said that the lack of the right HR technology would be a challenge heading into next year. The more technology can handle the tedious work, the more HR professionals can focus on strategic solutions and make more meaningful and sustainable changes.

    Our all-in-one human resources information system (HRIS) saves HR professionals time by allowing them to:

    • Maintain a library of digital documents (and say goodbye to stacks of paper);
    • Assign employee tasks (like reviewing mandatory policies) in four quick steps;
    • Collect and securely store employee information;
    • Document a digital paper trail;
    • Create document bundles for standard processes (like onboarding and offboarding); and
    • Oversee what employee assignments are pending and overdue.

    Through this platform, employees can also complete mandatory training courses your organization needs to stay compliant. Find training courses from our library and assign it to applicable employees.

    To save you even more time, our Policy Manual Wizard will create a policy manual for you. Just answer a short questionnaire so we can identify the policies that apply to your workplace and jurisdiction, then the Policy Manual Wizard will compile the policies you need. Save all your policies digitally in our HRIS for easy assigning and tracking. We also inform you when our policy templates have been updated to reflect legislative changes and current best practices, so you can update your documents with our suggested changes and remain compliant. Book a free demo with one of our HR experts to see how our services can help empower your organization to further its HR goals.