Archive for August, 2010

The joy of work

Trapped Chilean miners need routine to keep sane during trying ordeal that could last until Christmas

By Todd Humber (

In 1997, the Supreme Court of Canada made a very enlightening remark when it recognized the importance of work to one’s self-esteem.

In Wallace v. United Grain Growers — which employers know well because it gave birth to bad-faith damages during the course of dismissal — the court recognized that, “for most people, work is one of the defining features of their lives.”

The routine of getting up in the morning, going to work and accomplishing something is a core part of the human experience. Sure, we all work for a paycheque, but there’s far more to it than just the bucks.

That’s not something lost on the rescuers trying to help the 33 Chilean miners who have been trapped 700 metres underground since the roof of the San Jose copper and gold mine collapsed on Aug. 5.

Experts have been heaping praise on the conduct of the trapped miners, who have shown extraordinary discipline and courage in making their way to safety, rationing supplies and keeping their spirits up.

They’ve also arranged the miners into shifts, so while some groups are sleeping others are up and active and working. The plan is to try and keep some sense of normalcy for dozens of men who are in an extraordinary and almost unprecedented situation.

Now, word comes that the miners themselves will have to go to work in order to help the rescuers. That’s because the rescue plan involves drilling a small bore hole into the mine, which will then be followed by a much larger bore. The larger drill will cascade rock and debris into the mine, which the trapped miners will have to clear in order to keep the operation running smoothly.

This is good news. It will ensure the miners don’t have idle hands, and will give them a sense they’re able to help themselves out of the disaster — that they have some element of control and they’re not helpless in the coming months.

Everyone is hoping this tragedy has a happy ending, because it’s far from over. But in the meantime, the miners will be able to wake up, go to work and feel like they’re able to accomplish something. It’s impossible to overstate the importance of that.

Todd Humber is the managing editor of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resources management. For more information, visit


The hazy realm of family status

Family status is a relatively new ground for discrimination under human rights legislation with potentially huge implications for employers

By Todd Humber (

There’s an employment law pendulum swinging out there that, in recent years, has leaned a little more towards Bob Cratchit and a little further away from Ebenezer Scrooge, much to the chagrin of some employers.

Sure, employers score small victories from time to time but there’s no denying, when it comes to workplace law, Canadian legislators and courts have more of a soft spot for David than Goliath. Employers experience this first-hand when it comes to clearing high bars set for issues such as just cause dismissal and accommodation to the point of undue hardship.

For HR professionals, ensuring policies and practices don’t run afoul of the law is one of their most important and visible roles. But where the rules aren’t clear, it’s tough for HR to know exactly where and when to draw a line in the sand.

Unfortunately, in too many cases, the rules are a little murky. And one of the haziest areas is an employer’s obligation to accommodate a worker because of family status, as evidenced by one of the cover stories on the Sept. 6, 2010, issue of Canadian HR Reporter. (See “Must accommodate child care: Tribunal,” page 1.)

That article was sparked by a ruling that found an employer discriminated against an employee because it didn’t accommodate her child-care responsibilities.

Family status is a relatively new ground for discrimination under human rights legislation with potentially huge implications for employers. Let’s take a look two recent cases and how the courts handled them, taken from the pages of Canadian Employment Law Today ( which has more detail on these cases and others dealing with family status.

The ailing spouse: Canada Safeway thought it was keeping things fair for all employees by requiring clerks to rotate through the night shift. But a human rights panel ruled it discriminated against a produce clerk in Alberta who had been with the company 27 years when it didn’t exempt him from night-shift duties so he could look after his ailing wife.

The panel was critical of the grocery store’s attempt at accommodation, which consisted of offering the worker a cashier position, which he considered a demotion. That was the “most convenient” option for Safeway, but it wasn’t enough to satisfy the panel. The worker was awarded $20,000 in lost wages and $10,000 in general damages.

The single dad: A mover for Ferguson Moving in Vancouver refused to work past 6 p.m. because he didn’t want his 10-year-old son to be home alone after school. The worker made arrangements with a daycare service to pick his son up and look after him until 6 p.m. The company found the overtime refusal unacceptable and fired him.

He sued, seeking $35,000 in damages and a letter of apology. But the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal said there was no indication the requirement to work overtime constituted a “serious interference with a substantial parental or other family duty or obligation and the employee had backup child care.”

Until the smoke clears on family status, it will be hard for employers to gauge exactly what they should be doing (and even then it won’t be crystal clear — see just cause or accommodation of disability).

But general HR best practices and common sense will work pretty well when it comes to family status. Treat all employees fairly and consistently but don’t be afraid to make an exception where appropriate. And always remember the bar for undue hardship has been set pretty high before digging in your heels.

Todd Humber is the managing editor of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resources management. For more information, visit

Why is there no appetite for criminal health and safety charges?

After more than six years, and almost no use, what’s the point of having a corporate killing law on the books?

By Todd Humber (

The spring of 2004 looked like it was going to be a massive turning point in health and safety in Canada.

Bill C-45, otherwise known as the “corporate killing law,” became the law of the land and, with its threat of jail time for senior executives, signaled what many thought would be a sea change in occupational health and safety. (The law came in the wake of the 1992 Westray coal mine disaster that killed 26 workers in Nova Scotia.)

And yet, in the six years since, the law has gone virtually unused with only a handful of charges. Why? It’s not like workers aren’t dying on the job anymore.

More proof of the reluctance to lay criminal charges came in the wake of the Christmas eve 2009 accident in Toronto. Four construction workers were killed and another seriously injured when scaffolding at a high-rise apartment collapsed. But when the charges were laid (the news came out just this past weekend), Bill C-45 was again curiously silent.

The charges laid by the province are certainly serious — up to $17 million in fines have been laid against two companies, and jail time is a possibility for individual executives and supervisors. But all of the charges appear to be under Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act according to published reports, not criminal charges under the Criminal Code envisioned in Bill C-45.

Bill C-45 is starting to look like that dusty old exercise bike in the corner — bought with the best of intentions, but neglected nonetheless.

Some argue police simply need more education on C-45, that they still don’t understand the law and how to use it. Others argue there is too much overlap between C-45 and provincial health and safety laws.

What do you think? Why aren’t authorities using their power to lay criminal charges in workplace health and safety incidents? Join the conversation by adding a comment.

Todd Humber is the managing editor of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resources management. For more information, visit

‘Take this job and shove it’

JetBlue flight attendant hits breaking point, grabs a beer and slides down an emergency chute into history as one of the most memorable resignations ever

By Todd Humber (

“Take this job and shove it, I ain’t working here no more.”

When Johnny Paycheck belted out that tune, it became an anthem of sorts for the working folks. Few of us can afford to tell our bosses that, but almost everyone has felt the urge to belt out Paycheck’s tune on occasion (present company excluded, of course — my boss reads this blog.)

But some people do hit a breaking point. There may be no better example of this than Steven Slater, the flight attendant for JetBlue who lost it after a flight on Aug. 9.

While he may not officially have resigned, it’s hard to imagine him returning to the job following his memorable exit. According to Reuters news, Slater bolted from the plane by deploying and sliding down the inflatable emergency chute after an altercation with a passenger. (The plane was on the ground when all hell broke loose.)

But before doing that, he apparently used a few expletives and told passengers over the intercom, “I’ve been in the business for 28 years. I’ve had it. That’s it.”

That’s when he allegedly grabbed a can of beer, and made his memorable escape from his career. He was arrested at home later, and will likely be charged with reckless endangerment and criminal mischief, according to police.

What are some of the more memorable resignations you’ve encountered or heard about? Feel free to tell your tale here by adding a comment. (Comments can be added anonymously.)

In the meantime, here’s a few of the “Greatest Quits”  from YouTube to keep your mind occupied, starting, quite appropriately, with Johnny Paycheck’s anthem. (And who doesn’t feel sorry for the poor employers that have to deal with these sods? Some of the quits are a tad uncomfortable.):

Take this job and shove it

A memorable quit

This guy was apparently inspired part by 2001: A Space Odyssey and part by the character Lloyd Dobbler from the movie Say Anything (you know, the guy played by John Cusack who had an affinity for holding boom boxes over his head?)  Though, his method is a little creepy and, quite appropriately, apparently gets the cops called on him in the end:

Quitting over the intercom

Here’s a guy who has clearly lost touch with … something.

Quitting with class

Not everything on YouTube is strange people running around with cameras. Workopolis offers up this video on how to quit with class.

Hollywood’s take

And, of course, there’s Hollywood’s take on resignations. While there’s plenty of great scenes to pick from, I’ve always been partial to the movie Office Space. And here’s Jennifer Aniston’s departure from her waitress job in that classic film:

And while this is before my time, it nonetheless makes interesting viewing (well, in this case hearing — because this clip is audio only). Here’s how the legendary Jack Paar emotionally quit the Tonight Show in protest in 1960 after NBC censors tampered with one of his jokes:


Share your stories?

Have a memorable story on quitting? Share it here by adding a comment.

Todd Humber is the managing editor of Canadian HR Reporter. For more information, visit

Here come the ‘Linksters’

By Todd Humber (

Who doesn’t love a good moniker?

When it comes to naming the different generations, we were practical at first. The baby boomers (born 1946 to 1964) were just that — products of the massive post Second World War baby boom.

Then we needed to find a name for people born before the boomers — and traditionalist (born 1927 to 1945) seemed like a logical fit. (Though, they’re also known as the “Greatest Generation” thanks to journalist Tom Brokaw — and it’s tough to argue with that moniker.)

When it came to naming the generation after the boomers, we got a little more creative with Generation X (born 1961 to 1981). The term was popularized by Canadian author Douglas Coupland in his 1991 novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture.

Following Gen X we strayed back into the practical (and alphabetical) realm with Generation Y (born 1982 to 1994). Though, Gen Y itself gets many monikers, including Millennials, Generation Next and the Net Generation.

So now it’s time to bestow a handle on the next generation, the one following Gen Y. And the consensus is…

Generation Z? No. Too easy. (Plus, we started out too late in the alphabet with X. If we went with Z, what would we possibly call the next group?)

The name that seems to be sticking is “Linksters.” It’s being bandied about to describe the generation born post 1995 that is just about to enter the workforce. One interesting article in the Edmonton Journal said, “Employers who hire Linksters are apt to discover that while they are more technologically savvy, they are perhaps less socially skilled than previous generations.”

In a nutshell the message is simple — Linksters have spent plenty of time online social networking, but they haven’t spent as much face time as previous generations. That could have obvious implications for employers if these youngsters are truly disadvantaged when it comes to face-to-face communications.

But don’t believe the hype. Most young people I know move effortlessly between online and personal interaction. One could even argue they’re better at networking and communication period because they spend time online in the evening chatting with friends via text messaging or videophone that other generations might have spent alone.

And call a generation whatever you like. But, remember, they all want pretty much the same things as they move through the different periods in their working lives. What a Linkster wants from an employer when she enters the workforce won’t vary much from what her mother or her grandmother wanted when they started their careers.

It’s the stages of life that dictate wants and needs far more than any generational differences. Young workers want challenging work. As they marry and have children, they strive for more work-life balance. And as they become empty nesters, they seek a return to meaningful and challenging work.

The only difference now is that young workers are smarter, and less shy, than their predecessors. They know what they want, and they’re not afraid to ask for it from day one.

Todd Humber is the managing editor of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resources management. For more information, visit