Changing Employment Standards for Articling Students Demonstrate Need to Update HR Practices

Changing Employment Standards for Articling Students Demonstrate Need to Update HR Practices

Today, Rachel Rabinovitch, a human resources consultant in Vancouver discusses potential changes to employment standards for articling students. 

At the last B.C. Law Society Annual General Meeting on October 6th, 2020, a motion was passed to apply the same standards as within the B.C. Employment Standards Act, section 16, parts 4 and 5 to the employment of articling students. While the motion addressed overtime pay and statutory holidays, it also highlights the issue of how articling students can sometimes be treated by law firms in British Columbia.

Part 4 of Section 16 covers “Hours of Work and Overtime,” while Part 5 covers “Statutory Holidays,” and the original motion at the October AGM speaks to the overarching concern of the treatment of articling students. Previously, articling students had been exempt from Employment Standards and traditionally their remuneration is not tied to the number of hours they work.

There is something to be said for working hard during Articles to secure an Associate role. However, the votes at the AGM in favour of the motion (1567 in favour, 1163 against and 187 abstentions) illustrate the need for change in order uphold law firms to a higher standard of care for students in terms of working hours.

However, the number of hours worked is not the only issue for articling students. A recent example of mistreatment of articling students is illustrated in Acumen Law Corporation v Ojanen. In this case, a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled that a Vancouver terminated an articling student without just cause, and engaged in “bullying” against the student.

This case is an example of how a conversation between an employee and employer could have mitigated damages, following allegations and before any action was taken.

In this case, an HR professional at the law firm would have acted as a valuable resource to resolve the conflict for either party. The law firm could have sought the advice of an HR professional about the best approach to the situation. Such informed HR insights would have likely prevented the articling student from being served termination notice and legal action in a public setting, and without an opportunity for response.

Human Resources is a critical element of organizational success. There are a range of ways that an HR professional can contribute to your organization, including setting up policies and procedures that align with legislation, upholding standards, positively contributing to company culture, and also taking control of difficult situations, providing advice to mitigate risk such as costly lawsuits.

While applying provisions within the Employment Standards Act to the articling position won’t prevent situations like the Acumen Law Corporation v Ojanen case, it will begin the conversation of fair treatment of all employees. This is especially applicable in situations with a significant power differential in the employment relationship. An HR professional can help navigate changes required and ensure equitable treatment of all staff.

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Please note: This article does not contain legal advice. If you would like advice on your specific situation, please contact Spraggs Law.