Best Employment Practices for Condominiums
By Melynda Layton LLB
Presented in September, 2005 at the ACMO CCI Conference
Every condominium needs good workers to perform the necessary tasks that allow owners to enjoy the benefits of their property. The key to success is finding the right candidate for the job. Once the incumbent is secured an employment contract will help ensure the candidate performs the duties as anticipated. If the person hired fails to do the job satisfactorily, the corporation may need to terminate the contract. Similarly, the person who is hired may have complaints with either the work they’ve been asked to do, the remuneration they receive, or the manner of their dismissal. When relations break down between these parties, this can lead to one or both of them taking legal action. A well-written employment contract will manage each parties’ expectations from the very beginning.
This paper provides an outline of best employment practices with particular emphasis on employment contracts and the appropriate regulatory framework.
Which Legislation Applies to Condominium Corporations?
The Ontario Human Rights Code
All condominium corporations must comply with the Ontario Human Rights Code (the “OHRC”).1
It is contrary to the legislation to discriminate against an employee, or potential employee, because of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, same-sex partnership status, family status or disability. Similarly, an employer or co-worker may not harass an employee on any of these grounds; this of course includes sexual harassment. The way to best comply with the law is simple: treat all employees fairly and equally.
It is becoming increasingly common for condominium corporations to hire couples to perform jointly perform superintendent work. These “joint contracts” create increased liability in the event the corporation is dissatisfied with one of the workers’ performance or alternatively, the couple breaks up.
The OHRC prohibits discrimination due to marital status. Under the legislation marital status includes couples who are married, common law, separated, or divorced. This can be a problem when an employer wishes to terminate the contract of one employee for a valid reason, but at the same time has a contract with their spouse and no cause for dismissal. It is contrary to the OHRC to terminate an employee because you wish to terminate their spouse. Rather, the employer must give notice and/or compensation when ending the contract. Careful consideration must be taken when dealing with these situations.
The Employment Standards Act, 2000
The Employment Standards Act, 2000 2 establishes a minimum collection of rights which every employment contract must conform with. The legislation governs such matters as employee wages, hours of work, overtime, public holidays, vacation pay, leave of absences and termination and severance of employment. No employer or employee can contract out of or waive a statutory employment standard.
The Workplace Safety and Insurance Act3
This act creates a no-fault insurance system for workplace or work-related accidents. Condominium corporations are not required to have coverage under this act, but they can apply to opt in. The employer must report their payroll to determine how much they must pay for this coverage. In case of an accident, the employee is compensated by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board and is prevented from taking any legal action against their employer. The corporation cannot pick and choose whom they wish to cover, but rather must cover all employees at the workplace once they have opted in.
The employer needs to determine if WSIB coverage or private insurance suits their needs. This decision would likely consider how many people they are thinking of covering. Private insurance may allow for insurance on an individual basis rather than all employees.
The Tenant Protection Act4
The Tenant Protection Act indicates superintendents have a right to remain in their unit for one week after the termination of the employment agreement. The superintendent may have additional rights to remain on the premises for a longer period (see below Employee Benefits.)
Defining the Employment Relationship
It is crucial to distinguish between an employment relationship and an independent contractor arrangement. Simply put, parties engaged in an employment relationship are said to be in a contract of service, whereas parties engaged in an independent contractor arrangement are under contract for services. This terminology provides little insight into the substantive nature of the relationships it describes. Moreover, legislation that endeavors to define what is meant by the terms “employee” and “employer”, more often than not, does so in a circular fashion. For example, an “employee” is frequently defined as a person employed by an employer, and in turn, an “employer” is commonly defined as a person who employs people.
When determining the nature of the working relationship between parties, courts have indicated four tests which must be considered. These include:
Degree or absence of control exercised by the “employer”
Employment relationships imply some supervision or control over the worker. The question is not whether the alleged employer exercises control over the worker, but whether they have the right to exercise control. The “degree” of control is a factor of whether the worker:
Works mostly on their own,
Is free to accept or refuse other work, and
Is required to work or attend the hirer’s place of business.
Ownership of tools
A worker may be considered an independent contractor if he/she owns his/her own tools. The same is true even if the hirer provides special tools when required.
Chance of profit and risk of loss
If the worker has a financial investment in the business over and above providing labour, this is considered a strong indicator an independent contractor arrangement exists. Unlike an employee, an independent contractor’s income fluctuates with the amount of work completed.
Integration of the “employee’s” work into the “employers” business
Is the worker an intrinsic part of the organization, or merely ancillary to it? Under a contract of service the worker is employed as part of the business and his/her work is done as an integral part of the business. By contrast, under a contract for services, an individual’s work, although a servant to the business, is an ancillary to the business.
There is no one conclusive test to be universally applied to determine whether a person is an employee or an independent contractor. On the contrary, the decision-maker must examine the relationship between the parties in totality. The central question is whether the person who has been engaged to perform services is doing so on his/her own account. All four (4) indicators taken together, suggest which arrangement is more likely.
The Employment Contract
A clearly worded employment contract will help both parties understand their legal rights both during employment and after it ends. Some typical clauses in employment agreements include:
Duties and Responsibilities of the Employee
An employee has a right to expect his/her duties and responsibilities will not unilaterally be altered upon commencement of employment. A precise job description avoids future disagreement. Attaching a schedule to the contract outlining the duties and responsibilities of the superintendent or other employee is a convenient way to insert this into the contract.
Probationary periods allow for a period of adjustment when both the employee and employer can assess the candidate’s suitability for employment. Probationary periods are not appropriate when:
the employee has been induced to leave permanent, secure employment in order to commence employment with another employer; and/or
the employee is a senior, executive or professional employee.
Under the Employment Standards Act, 2000, employees who are terminated and have been employed with an employer for less than three months are not entitled to payment on account of notice of termination (see subsection 57(1) of the Employment Standards Act, 2000). If the probationary period is longer than three months, the agreement should provide that the employee will receive the Employment Standards Act, 2000 minimum notice of termination if he or she is dismissed after three months but within the probationary period.
Despite the Employment Standards Act, 2000, some recent court decisions in Ontario have held that it is improper for an employer to dismiss a probationary employee before the employee is given an opportunity to demonstrate his/her ability. The employer is further obligated to provide a fair evaluation and to warn an employee that his/her job is in jeopardy and provide that employee with a reasonable opportunity to correct any deficiencies, prior to a dismissal. Some cases have even indicated that an employer must provide an employee with assistance improving his/her performance. In the event of unsatisfactory performance, a clear warning is required such that the employee is made to understand the shortcomings of his/her performance, and that there is a possibility of discharge if the performance is not improved. The most recent trend with respect to probationary employees is that there be a “fair, honest and valid assessment” of an employee’s competence and that, further, an employer’s conclusion to terminate must be reasonable and properly motivated.
Termination of Employment
Where employment is terminated with cause the employee is not entitled to notice, or payment in lieu of notice. Cause for termination may include habitual neglect of duty, dishonesty, theft, fraud, conflict of interest, incompetence, disobedience or insubordination.
An organization may always dismiss an employee without cause upon providing notice of termination or payment in lieu thereof. An employer must comply with its minimum obligations as established by the Ontario Employment Standards Act, 2000 (the “ESA”). Generally minimum notice requirements established by the ESA are reserved for lower level employees. Professional, executive, long-term specialized, skilled, etc., employees are entitled to notice in excess of the what the ESA provides unless there is a written agreement in place limiting their rights.
Reasonable notice upon termination of employment can be addressed within a contract, as follows:
a) Employment Standards Act, 2000
All employee’s are entitled to the ESA. When an employer desires to limit an employee’s rights upon termination to the Employment Standards Act, 2000 minimums, the following principles apply:
i) If the contract provides for notice less than that required by the provisions of the applicable Employment Standards Act, 2000, the provision will be null and void,
ii) The contract must specifically provide the province’s Employment Standards Act applies. If it merely says, “provincial law”, without naming the act, it is not clear enough, and
iii) If the applicable Employment Standards Act specifies a minimum notice shall be “at least” a certain period of time (as British Columbia and Ontario’s Employment Standards Act does), then a clause that merely provides that notice will be in accordance with the Employment Standards Act is not clear enough.
b) Set Term
The contract of employment may provide for a set notice period such as six (6) months.
c) Common Law Notice
The employment contract may provide for reasonable notice upon termination of employment. Notice, pursuant to the common law, is assessed on a case-by-case basis. When assessing what constitutes reasonable notice of termination the seminal case is that of Bardal v. Globe & Mail,5 a 1960 decision wherein the Court noted, “there can be no catalogue laid down as to what is reasonable notice in particular classes of cases. The reasonableness of the notice must be decided with reference to each particular case, having regard to the character of the employment, the length of service of the servant, the age of the servant and the availability of similar employment, having regard to experience, training and qualifications of the servant.”
Other factors considered when assessing what is reasonable notice of termination include:
whether inducement is a factor;
break in service;
failure to provide letter of reference and/or verbal references;
improper cause allegations;
manner of dismissal;
limited formal education and skills;
Where an indefinite employment agreement fails to reference notice entitlements upon termination of employment, the servant is entitled to reasonable notice of dismissal under the common law.
Employees should be provided with copies of all company benefit plans prior to commencement of employment and execution of an employment agreement. One unique aspect of a superintendent’s position is frequently the provision of an apartment. In the case of termination of the contract the superintendent has a right to occupancy of their apartment. Under s. 68 of the Tenant Protection Act,6 a superintendent’s tenancy agreement ends on the day of termination and the superintendent must vacate the premises within one week. No rent is required to be paid during the one week period. This is a statutory minimum and it is important to remember that at common law all benefits must be continued during the notice period where there is dismissal without cause. As such, the landlord will either be required to allow the dismissed superintendent to remain in the apartment for the period of reasonable notice or to compensate them for moving out.
Employee Handbook/Employment Policies
Employees should be provided with copies of all rules and regulations they will be subject to, prior to commencement of employment and execution of the employment agreement.
Where an employer acts in such a way as to alter the terms and conditions of an employment contract, an employee may be entitled to regard the employer’s conduct as a termination. This may occur where an employer has demoted an employee, changed the work they are required to do, taken away certain privileges, reduced their pay, or made any change that substantially alters the terms and conditions of employment. In such a situation the employer has repudiated the contract and the employee may bring the contract to an end and sue for damages.
When changing the work to be done the question will be whether the employer has the right to assign alternative duties to the employee and whether such alternative duties are compatible with the job the employee was hired to do. To guard against a constructive dismissal claim an employer should preserve the right to make changes in the employment contract. This flexibility may be provided within a written contract or may be stipulated in personnel policies which are incorporated into the employment agreement. Wherever possible an employer should refrain from promising an employee a defined set of job duties.
Despite changes to the employment contract an employee may be required to remain in the altered position in mitigation of damages. In circumstances where the salary is the same, where working conditions are not substantially different or the work demeaning, and where personal relationships involved are not acrimonious it is reasonable to expect the employee to remain employed.
An employer may also avoid a constructive dismissal claim if it gives advance notice of the contemplated changes to the employee. The reasoning in this regard is that what an employee is entitled to is a reasonable notice of termination. Just an employee may give actual notice of termination, so too it may give notice of a fundamental change that would constitute a constructive dismissal. Provided that the amount of notice given equals or exceeds the length of the applicable common law period, an employee will not be entitled to damages.
Clarity of contract is essential to a successful working relationship. An employer must determine what kind of relationship they want to establish and what work it is they want done. Foresight will assist with managing both employment and termination procedures.
To ask a question or for further advice please contact Melynda at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at 613-225-4400
1R.S.O. 1990, c. H.19
2 S.O. 2000 c. 41.
3 S.O. 1997, c.16.
4 S.O. 1997, c. 24.
5  O.J. No. 149 (Ont. H.C.).
6 S.O. 1997, c. 24.