Last week, I identified the key developments which defined the year 2021, reflecting the rapid changes under way in the workplace. This week, I examine the key themes that I predict will be front and centre in the new year.
The Job Market
North America’s supply-chain disruptions have led to a surge in local industries to replace products which can no longer be quickly obtained from abroad. New, as well as growing, companies require more employees — but they are nowhere to be found.
Back in 2019, pre-pandemic, I referred in these pages, to that era as being one of full employment. We will shortly be beyond that, with multiple jobs for each applicant. This will be triggered by the growth of domestic North American industries faced with the decreasing birth rates in both the Canada and the United States. The situation is exacerbated by a reduced immigration flow due to COVID-19. And, of course, there is the compounding demographic reality of an ageing workforce and COVID-19 propelled early retirements.
Adding to all of this is the residual impact of The Canada Emergency Response Benefit and other subsidies for the unemployed or under employed , which created large numbers of newly indigent Canadians who learned to prefer welfare to employment.
You might think that the cessation of such programs would force such people back to the labour market. You would be wrong. When workers are permitted to become lazy for a sustained period, it becomes almost impossible to motivate them to re-engage, beyond short spurts of episodic work.
Another reality is that, with people working from home for two years, the former social bonds created by daily workplace interactions have largely vanished. Employers’ loyalty to employees and vice versa have been significantly extinguished.
But, for the purposes of this column, what flows from all of this?The incipient Great Resignation will become a deluge since employees no longer have any inherent loyalty to their employers and few consequences from resigning thanks to the abundance of jobs on offer. Wages will increase as employers pay more both to retain employees and to prevent them from looking elsewhere. This will add further to inflation, which, in turn, will exacerbate wage increases.
Employers will solicit employees from their competitors to an extent never seen before and employers will focus on recruitment and retention with novel approaches to both, in an historically unparalleled manner and extent.
Unions will have another bad year. Between observing how impotent unions were to the ravages of the COVID-19 economy, with unionized employees unable to sue for wrongful and constructive dismissal when laid off or terminated, and employees’ new unparalleled market power to negotiate their own increases as opposed to being stuck in a long-term two per cent annual increase collective agreement, they will avoid unions in droves.
With unprecedented market power, employees will resist signing employment contracts. And since most employment contracts more than two years old are unenforceable based upon recent case law, Canadian employees will effectively be operating contract-free going forward.
For the same reasons, most dismissal cases will be of little value because employers will readily be able to establish that the employees suing them could easily obtain other work. Defence counsels will do what I have done for years when acting for employers: focus on available alternate employment to demonstrate that the employee could mitigate and their damages should be lessened accordingly. That is bad news for employment lawyers especially for those “bucket shops” on contingency.
Health and Safety
Between the need to retain motivated employees and the massive potential fines and civil liabilities for not having a safe workplace, employers will focus on workplace health and safety to an extent, which would have been astonishing even two years ago.
Vaccine mandates will also be a major theme in 2022, as it was in 2021.Generally, only large, and some medium-sized, employers have imposed vaccine mandates, requiring employees to be vaccinated to remain employed. Vaccine mandates will evolve with medical science to quickly require boosters.
With the further spread of COVID-19 and the federal government and others leading the way with compulsory vaccinations, policies of “be vaccinated or get fired” will become de rigueur in corporate Canada. The courts will support this and employees who have listened to lawyers advertising that they should sue their employers will be extraordinarily disappointed.
With fewer jobs to transfer to without such requirements, even anti-vaxxers will fall in line and take the plunge. After all, even gig workers and independent contractors will shortly find that there is no longer any client willing to take them on unvaccinated.
Overall, the 2021 movement to enhanced employee rights will accelerate further as result of the labour shortage in 2022.
It will have a sudden and jarring end, but I don’t want to get too deep into next year’s predictions just yet. I promise all readers who jump on board for 2022 an interesting ride.