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Why is it important to track your training initiatives

Why is it important to track your training initiatives?

By Yosie Saint-Cyr, LL.B., Managing Editor, HRinfodesk.com---Canadian Payroll and Employment Law News, November 2009

Last August, we asked our HRinfodesk poll participants, How do you track employee training, learning and development? The results illustrate that the vast majority of companies still rely upon spreadsheets, fragmented reporting and anecdotal pieces of information to guide their training, learning and development decisions, and use such tools as Excel spreadsheets to track training initiatives. In addition, a great number of respondents do not track or think it is necessary to track training and development initiatives. While a very small percentage of respondents, 33 (13.81%) use a formal human resources management system training module to plan and track their employee training (see table below for details).

When an organization recognizes how integral training and education are to its operation and success, it must make tracking training and development initiatives an integral part of its risk management strategy. There are many factors that can indicate a need for employee training and development in your organization, but three key factors are: compliance/liability issues, employee motivation/retention and employment practices.

Workplace training programs that develop human capital can contribute significantly to the performance of individual organizations, industries and the overall economy, according to the Canadian Policy Research Networks. While some employers voluntarily send new employees on training courses prior to commencing work, there are certain areas, like in health and safety, where regulations require employers to provide certain kinds of training—or at least ensure employees have essential training—before putting them to work. Recent court decisions and Human Rights Commission guidelines have made discrimination and harassment prevention training so essential that it is almost mandatory. Quality workplace training can also help employers prevent disputes or resolve those that arise more quickly.

First key factor: Compliance/liability issues

Law and regulation drive the need for training. In recent years, the number of employee lawsuits has increased. The types of lawsuits filed and the amount in damages awarded are increasing due in part to a heavy regulatory framework and many new and complex laws created by provincial, territorial and federal governments.

While the courts and governments have broadened the topics on which training is mandatory, the essential meaning of “mandatory” can vary by industry sector or legislative requirement. For example, mandatory training in employment practices means that the courts are saying that lack of training may give rise to your liability where a claim has been filed, but it does not mean that you could be fined for not having performed the training. However, in other areas, such as those under Occupational Health and Safety legislation and regulations, mandatory means that you can be fined or penalized for not having performed the training—even though an injury claim has not occurred.

There are several areas of liability for an employer in the law of training:

  • Failure to train
  • Discriminatory failure to offer training
  • Inadequate training
  • Instructor misconduct
  • Training which verifies or acts as evidence of wrongdoing such as discrimination

Although there are not many court cases in Canada that have dealt with this topic, we will examine employer liability areas under the law with regard to training.

The two key areas where employers need to ensure the management team and employees receive proper training are:

  1. Human rights
  2. Health and Safety

For example:

1. Human rights and training

The Supreme Court has essentially ruled that punitive damages cannot be assessed against an employer who has taken all the preventative steps in discrimination and harassment. Thus, training has become a necessity for organizations in order to prevent problems from happening, and to avoid liability.

Nearly every discrimination, harassment or sexual harassment charge and lawsuit challenges the employer's training practices on one of three points:

  • Failure to train
  • Inadequate training
  • Instructor misconduct

Likewise, a common component of sex discrimination lawsuits is a charge of disparate training opportunities along gender lines.

All employers must provide their employees with discrimination and harassment prevention training for the following reasons:

  • Employees need to learn about the nuances of what is and what is not discrimination and harassment — they need accurate and practical information to identify, prevent and report discriminatory practices, sexual harassment and other forms of workplace harassment
  • Employers will save money by reducing the number of discrimination and harassment claims and the costs of investigating, litigating and paying verdicts and settlements to resolve those claims
  • The law requires training — recent court decisions, federal and provincial guidelines and laws make it essential that all employers provide their employees anti-discrimination and harassment prevention training

Organizations that provide anti-discrimination/harassment prevention training may:

  • Avoid punitive damages in employee lawsuits.
  • Assert a defense against discrimination/harassment lawsuits. An employer that has provided training to its employees has an affirmative defense to prove that it has made ongoing and effective efforts to avoid harassment and discrimination. Those efforts can include supervisory training; employee education about anti-discrimination programs; adoption of preventive policies; implementation of effective problem-resolution; posting of the employer's zero-tolerance policy prohibiting discrimination and harassment; and additional preventive programs.
  • Comply with federal and provincial/territorial guidelines established under human rights legislation and common law.

The critical factor is the quality of the material the employer is presenting. The employer must make sure it is customized enough to cover the company and the topic. You also have to have a record to show that the person has gone through the training. Most good training programs have a quiz or some other method to verify the employee has understood and assimilated the material provided. Once the employee has completed the program, this information should go to the HR department, or any other designated person, for inclusion in the employee's personnel file.

Where the number of participants warrants, this training should be available in the language most employees are comfortable with.

2. Health and safety training

Owners of successful businesses understand the importance of managing health and safety in the workplace. Maintaining workplace health and safety is both a legal requirement and good business practice. Business owners are required to provide a safe workplace. To operate safely, the business owner must train workers and supervisors and keep them informed, among other things. It is equally important for employers to send new employees on safety training for jobs that present a safety risk, prior to the first day of work.

For example, in British Columbia, under the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, all employers must ensure that a young or new worker is given health and safety orientation and training specific to his or her workplace before the worker begins work.

Depending on the nature of the business and the number of employees, business owners might also be required to have a trained safety committee or a health and safety representative.

For example, in Ontario, the Occupational Health and Safety Act requires that at least one joint health and safety committee (JHSC) member representing workers and one representing management be certified through approved training. The Act requires most workplaces with 20 or more workers to have at least one worker and one management person serve as certified members of a workplace joint health and safety committee. This certification involves training in health and safety law, and the identification, assessment and control of hazards.

In addition to requiring basic training for certified members, the law also states that each workplace must determine its own specific training needs for certified members by conducting a hazard assessment. The second phase of the certification process requires that the basic certified members receive training in hazards specific to their own workplace. This assessment identifies all of the hazards in the workplace that might affect a worker's health or safety. Employers are responsible for conducting the assessment, in consultation with the joint health and safety committee.

In Ontario, standards for this training are set by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), in accordance with section 4 of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act. The WSIB certifies JHSC members who complete approved training programs. Certification training is delivered by a number of approved providers.

The programs vary in length and cost.

Health and safety related training programs should include the following topics (however, the list is not exhaustive):

  • Health & Safety Law
    Employees and supervisors are introduced to occupational health and safety legislation with a focus on the rights and responsibilities of the workplace parties. They learn the fundamental principles of health and safety law and how these principles drive the implementation of health and safety policies and programs in the workplace.
  • Hazard Identification, Assessment and Control
    Employees and supervisors learn to identify, assess and develop procedures to control health and safety hazards. They study the impact that hazards have on the human body and how this knowledge can be applied to the process of identifying, assessing and controlling workplace hazards.
  • Investigation Techniques
    Employees and supervisors develop the skills to conduct effective accident, incident and illness investigations. They learn how to identify the causes of actual or potential occurrences and how to recommend changes to ensure they do not happen again.
  • Prevention Resources
    Certified representatives must know where to get occupational health and safety information. They examine the available resources and describe how they can be used to make the joint health and safety committee, the primary vehicle for resolution of workplace health and safety issues, more effective. They should also learn how to assess the relevance of information.
  • Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS)
    WHMIS is a Canada-wide system designed to give employers and workers information about hazardous materials used in the workplace. The main purpose of the federal WHMIS legislation is to require suppliers of hazardous materials used in the workplace to provide health and safety information about their products as a condition of sale.

    Provincial/territorial Occupational Health and Safety Regulations require that all workers who work with, or are likely to handle, or be exposed to hazardous materials in their workplace, receive training and education in WHMIS. It also requires employers to obtain health and safety information about hazardous materials in their workplaces and to pass it on to their workers. There are three ways in which the information is to be provided:

    • Labels on the containers of hazardous materials
    • Material safety data sheets (MSDSs) to supplement the label with detailed hazard and precautionary information
    • Worker education programs
    In WHMIS training, employees and supervisors should learn about the purpose and overall design of WHMIS, and the six hazard categories it incorporates. They should learn the relevance of material safety data sheets and product labels from their own workplaces. This program should also cover safe handling procedures, storage and disposal of hazardous materials, as well as emergency measures. Upon completion of this program, employees and supervisors should know how to locate and interpret any hazard information they encounter. Where the number of participants warrants, this program should be available in the language most employees are comfortable with.
  • First Aid training
    All provincial and territorial government Occupational Health and Safety Acts or Regulations require that some employees be trained to provide first aid in the workplace. The Act or Regulation states what each employer is obligated to provide in the workplace.

These various health and safety training requirements assist in meeting the duty of care and due diligence with which all participants in a workplace are charged.

Safety should be part of all workplace training. Evaluate work procedures and ensure your training enables employees to work safely. Inform employees of their rights and obligations regarding health and safety. Keep training current and practical. Whenever you change any equipment or parts of the work process, re-evaluate your training.

Remember that training includes both formal and informal education. Some of the most effective learning occurs during informal safety talks between supervisors and workers. Often, training is only considered for new employees. However, ongoing training for current employees helps them adjust to changing job requirements and skills. Poorly trained employees create more problems than just errors in their work product. They also become a drain on morale and can create problems with other employees, customers and vendors.

Second key factor: Employee motivation/retention

Employee motivation/retention arises in part from the opportunities employees have to grow and develop job- and career-enhancing skills. Employers should allow employees to pursue training and development in directions they choose, not just in company-assigned and needed directions.

Organizations should support learning in general, and not just in support of knowledge needed for the employee's current or next anticipated job. Recognize that the key factor is keeping the employee interested, attending and engaged.

The development of a life-long engaged learner is a positive factor for your organization no matter how long the employee chooses to stay in your employ. Use these training and development activities to ensure that you optimize the employee's motivation and potential retention.

Third key factor: Training in employment practices

Not all problems with employees are related to personality. In fact, most problems businesses face relate to the inability of the business to train employees for the tasks for which they are responsible. Proper and adequate training in employment practices includes issues that might prevent unfavourable employment situations from occurring, such as:

  • Negligent hiring
  • Bad performance reviews
  • Uncalled for disciplinary procedures
  • Unnecessary firings and wrongful dismissals
  • Privacy
  • Wage and hours of work
  • Leaves of absence
  • Discrimination
  • Defamation

For instance, in many companies, supervisors and managers make hiring and firing decisions, with little or no training on these issues.

Recent court decisions have confirmed that an employer is not entitled to dismiss an employee for mere dissatisfaction with the employee's job performance. There are specific steps an employer must take before an employee can be dismissed for poor job performance. An employee with substandard performance must be given proper warning that his or her job is in jeopardy, and the opportunity to correct any deficiencies. Only if the substandard performance persists can steps be taken to dismiss the employee. Proper training is one of the opportunities employers must provide to employees to correct any deficiencies.

When hiring a new employee, an employer should make any expectations and performance standards clear at the time of the job offer and should ensure the prospective employee understands the job offer is conditional upon meeting those expectations and standards. The law requires the employer to give the employee a notice of dissatisfaction with job performance and a remedy period for meeting the performance standards, in order to defend a dismissal due to poor job performance. If the employer fails to do so, the employee is considered improperly dismissed.

Record keeping

Most occupational health and safety and human rights legislation requires employers to keep records of all health and safety/human rights orientation and training provided to workers. Documentation of orientation and training is required in order for employers to demonstrate that they have provided workers with the necessary or mandated initial orientation and training in the topics set out in law, regulation or common law. Similarly, documentation of additional orientation and training is required in order for employers to demonstrate they have responded to the needs identified by either the employer or the worker.

Documentation also serves the employer as evidence of due diligence and compliance.

Resources and tools

Employee training and development are part of good management practices and good risk management strategies.

It is critical that employee training be carried out by people who are both knowledgeable in the subject matter and are capable of training effectively. If no employees meet these criteria, then a trainer or trainers must be brought in from outside the organization.

There have been situations where people were encouraged by their trainers to role-play as part of their training and things said and done in the training sessions have come back to haunt the company. This is one reason why employers need to understand what they're buying when providing or outsourcing training. In some cases where the trainers have provided poor training, the companies have been found liable because of things said or done, or retaliatory actions, triggered by improperly conducted training sessions—especially in the area of discrimination.

To avoid these legal landmines, be sure to select highly qualified instructors and develop thorough, effective training programs. If you do not have the in-house expertise to develop and conduct the required training programs, retain an outside instructor, but carefully review the skills and experience of the candidates, verifying references and résumés. Given the potential for training-related litigation, consider the candidates' litigation experience in testifying or otherwise. Monitor all training, and be sure to follow-up on the effectiveness of the training immediately so that you can offer retraining if necessary. Document the attendance of employees at the training sessions.

At a minimum, there are three action items for every employer to ensure that they are complying with all mandatory training laws and needs:

  1. Conduct a thorough inventory of the training needs and obligations the company has under federal and provincial/territorial law and regulations
  2. Develop and implement training programs or retain qualified outside trainers
  3. Document training and re-training needs and history in employees' personnel files

Also, using an HR management system to track the organization's training needs, among other records, is a very good idea.

The HRtrack management system for small to medium size businesses is an affordable software application to manage training activities in easier and smarter ways. It is a cost-effective tool that enables organizations to create, manage, track and organize their orientation, training and education (development) initiatives. It is simple to use and produces tracking reports to measure the effectiveness of your training and education programs.

Where training is concerned, HRtrack offers:

  • Centralized training records in a single database for analysis and reporting
  • Improved risk management to avoid penalties, fines and litigation, with automatic notification of training requirements due, not taken and expiring
  • Saves time and labour to make tracking radically easier, more accurate and faster the many tasks you need to get done
  • Coordinated training efforts
  • Monitoring of training activities

To try HRtrack free for 30 days, go to the First Reference website at www.firstreference.com/hrt.asp.