Earlier this month, Bill 55 (also known as the Remembrance Week Act), was passed in the Ontario provincial legislature with unanimous consent. Considered to be an expansion of the Remembrance Day Observance Act, in effect since 1997, Bill 55 proclaims the seven-day period of November 5th to 11th to be an annual period of reflection and memorialization throughout the province.
Remembrance Day itself will remain the same – two minutes of silence, starting at 11 a.m., with all people encouraged to participate – while the days preceding will legitimize, support, and augment existing memorial practices. John Fraser, Ottawa South Liberal MPP and co-sponsor of the legislation, said to Ottawa Community News that “it is a reflection of what is happening in communities, and it’s to acknowledge that and promote that.”
With this recent development, it seems prudent to reflect on a couple of considerations for HR managers and business owners in terms of incorporating remembrance into a company’s business.
The Cost of Making it a Statutory Holiday:
In the province of Ontario, Remembrance Day continues to persist as a non-statutory memorial holiday. Although some believe that it should be a statutory holiday, many argue that the spirit of the day is better preserved by having children participate in Remembrance Day activities at their schools and adults being able to attend ceremonies either at work or at a local cenotaph. In fact, the Royal Canadian Legion has publicly opposed efforts to make it a statutory holiday, stating that it would become "just another day off."
In a Nov. 11, 2014 column for The Hamilton Spectator, Howard Elliott noted that “the Conference Board of Canada has said the cost of a national statutory holiday…includes employer costs of $206 per full-time worker and $62 per part timer, as well as loss of productivity [estimated] at about $3.6 billion.” On the other hand, it is worth noting that other provinces have their ways of getting around such losses. In Nova Scotia, for example, all companies (barring specific exemptions) must close on Remembrance Day – but employees who do not work are not entitled to holiday pay, thus leaving it at the discretion of employers. So for an HR department wrestling with the idea of granting time off for a day (or more) to remember the sacrifices of the past, it’s important to remember that there are no obligations and there are ways of making it work.
Granting Time Off to Attend a Ceremony:
Some employees may request time off for part of the day to attend a ceremony at a local cenotaph or school. Granting this permission is at the discretion of the employer, but the cost of not agreeing may be poor employee morale and the accusation of being unpatriotic. That being said, it is important that the employer be consistent in their approach to granting time off for Remembrance Day and set specific expectations around the length of time granted. Allowing certain employees to attend and not others may bring accusations of discrimination, unless you openly communicate in advance that someone has been designated to represent your company. Making it paid time off versus unpaid is also at the discretion of the employer.
Observing Time of Silence:
Participation in the two minutes of silence at 11:00 a.m. is voluntary. Bill 55 itself makes this very clear: “The silence can only be achieved through voluntary observance and through our collective desire to remember.” For those companies wishing to incorporate the observance into their workplaces, however, it can be a struggle to find ways to do this effectively. Fortunately, the bill also provides guidance in this regard, depending on a company’s business needs. Among numerous suggestions are pulling vehicles to the side of the road and sitting quietly (if driving for work), announcing the silence over a public address system, gathering in common areas of the business, or briefly shutting down assembly lines. They may not all suffice, but the range of options indicates that there’s no reason why business and remembrance cannot co-exist.
If you have any questions or concerns about how to handle HR issues related to this Remembrance Day, or any other employee challenges, please don't hesitate to contact Anna Aceto-Guerin from Clear Path Employer Services. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or toll free at (888) 336-0950.
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