Practicing HR isn’t cut and dry. There are risks that HR professionals purposefully or inadvertently can pose to the public, including jobseekers, employees, employers.

And these risks were identified in HRPA’s risk roster through extensive research and consultations, with severity rankings for each risk based on likelihood and impact scores. HRPA’s risk roster is a living document that will be updated on an ongoing basis as new or changing risks emerge and is an important step in HRPA’s shift to risk-based regulation – a proactive approach where we partner with our registered members, students and firms to prevent or mitigate any potential risks posed by the practice of HR.

There are number of risks outlined in the risk roster so be sure to read through it. But in the meantime, here are 6 risks you should be aware of right now.

1. Mental Health

Even post-pandemic, mental illness is the leading cause of disability worldwide (according to the World Health Organization). Yet, in a 2019 survey of working Canadians, 75% of respondents said they would be reluctant – or would refuse – to disclose a mental illness to an employer or co-worker. Undoubtedly, mental health needs to be properly addressed by HR in the workplace as HR professionals could be at risk of condoning, ignoring, or creating a work environment that is harmful to workers’ psychological wellbeing and/or mental health.

Like any regulatory body, professional guidance is critical in helping to supplement the Code of Ethics and Rules of Professional Conduct and to provide HRPA members, firms and students with the tools to protect the public interest. To understand how to address this risk at work, be sure to review HRPA’s Practice Guideline Fostering Mental Health in the Workplace.

2. Workplace Investigations and/or complaints

Improper or incomplete investigations cost money and time and can erode credibility. In fact, the consequences of biased, mishandled or unfairly conducted investigations can be dire including reaching the wrong result, having difficulty supporting an outcome, or even facing serious legal issues.

“For example, in Doyle v Zochem Inc., 2017 ONCA 130, the employee sued their former employer for wrongful dismissal after being terminated following a complaint that they were being sexually harassed by a co-worker. The court found that the employee had been sexually harassed and that the employer had done a “cursory” investigation, hearing only from the respondent and failing to give the employee an opportunity to respond prior to their dismissal. The court awarded the employee CA$60,000 in moral damages, which was upheld on appeal.” [1]

Review the Conducting Workplace Investigations Practice Standard to understand how to conduct appropriate workplace investigations to keep the public from experiencing harms that can from rushing to judgement and improper investigations.

3. Privacy/ Confidentiality and Security

As technology continues to advance, data privacy breaches will remain a huge issue for HR and employers. Just look at what happened last year when an Ontario arbitrator upheld the firing of a hospital worker who, without authorization or a valid reason, accessed private patient information.

In HRPA’s risk roster some additional examples of this include not maintaining confidentiality of employees’ records, using surveillance to collect negative information on employees, and allowing inappropriate use by others of HR management tools or documents.

So, data protection and the development of clear and consistent protocols that solidifies workplace confidence in confidentiality and security will need to remain top of mind for HR. Improper social media use falls under the privacy/confidentiality and security category since the online release of confidential information is a risk that can cause harm to the public. HRPA’s Practice Guideline on Social Media Use helps HR professionals become better equipped to recognize the importance of maintaining confidentiality and privacy when using social media – and understand the legal and regulatory obligations that come with participating in online activities.

4. Terminations  

Ending a person’s employment is an important and impactful decision, and one that requires not just empathy and compassion, but also due care and diligence. There are several challenges that exist in the process that, when done improperly, can lead to risk of harms to the public and a handful of legal issues. Some specific examples that were identified in HRPA’s risk roster include HR dismissing employees without a reasonable cause, and attempting to force someone to resign. COVID-19 may have even had an impact on termination notice periods and validity of some terminations.

The Terminations Checklist Practice Guideline focuses on identifying different kinds of terminations and helps guide HR professionals in properly handling them.

5. Discrimination

Employee discrimination isn’t a thing of the past. In a 2021 York University study, for instance, 96% of Black Canadians identified racism as a concern at work, and 78% stated that workplace racism they’ve noticed is severe. The fact is discrimination in the workplace persists and takes on many forms – some overt and others a bit more subtle. For example, discrimination can occur when you pay someone less than other employees for no good reason or you don’t make reasonable adjustments for a disabled worker.  In HRPA’s risk roster, “unconscious biases impacting important HR decisions like hiring and promotions” ranked as the second biggest HR risk!

The Addressing Racism and Discrimination in the Workplace Practice Guideline outlines the minimum expectations and standards registered HR professionals must adhere to minimize the risk of discrimination manifesting in the workplace. Be sure to bookmark it and refer back to it regularly.

6. Regulation

Failing to meet the expectations of a regulated HR professional is a major HR risk that’s often not considered but should never be overlooked. Examples include false reporting to the registrar, interfering with disciplinary processes and failing to cooperate with HRPA’s regulatory process (e.g. not abiding by standards set out in the Code of Ethics and Rules of Professional Conduct.)

Professional regulation is critical. Compliance with HRPA’s regulatory process helps to ensure a competent and ethical HR practice that promotes and protects the public interest –and Ontario workplaces. Learn more, about the importance of professional regulation in the world of work and HR by browsing the Professional Regulation Demystified webpage.