Playing by the Rules

The news is buzzing this morning with reports that Lance Armstrong has admitted to using performance enhancing drugs. I find it unsurprising, if a little disappointing. Lance is a great athlete, but it’s important to play by the rules of whatever game you find yourself in. If you don’t, you have to pay the price. It seems like his will be a large one.

(Cue segue)

Many of our clients, particularly those will small and medium sized business, often have trouble navigating the rules of the game they’re playing. And sometimes, not playing by the rules is just a consequence of being too busy trying to run your business, rather than any sort of intentional wrongdoing. But the excuses don’t affect the consequences.

Our job is to help out with the rules. As professional business advisors, we have specific skills that come into play when things go wrong (litigator work), and in preventing things from going wrong (solicitor work). In addition to helping with those specific problems that our clients know about, we also do compliance audits as a value-added service to try to avoid unexpected problems.

A compliance audit starts as a friendly conversation about all of the horrible things that can go wrong if you don’t comply with the myriad and intersecting legal framework that your particular business is involved in. We find that well-educated clients are a lot more comfortable with making decisions about their priorities and business objectives.

While this blog medium doesn’t lend itself to an exhaustive list of all of the areas of compliance that every business owner must deal with, here is a purposefully brief overview of a lot of areas where we find compliance gaps.

The Business Corporations Act – the main legislation which governs the existence of your business. Are you properly constituted? Are you up to date with your information filings? Are you keeping the required books and records? Failure in any of these categories might mean the cancellation of your corporate status.

PIPEDA – sometimes mistakenly referred to as the privacy act, PIPEDA is the act which governs the collection, use and disclosure of personal information by private businesses. If your policies are bad, or if you aren’t following them, expect complaints to the Privacy Commissioner’s office. Their investigations aren’t fun.

The Occupational Health and Safety Act – this act is the source of a lot of compliance action lately. Stiff penalties in the millions of dollars, and increased enforcement have followed the requirements of Ontario employers to have harassment policies, violence policies, and now standards for offering services and products to persons with disabilities. This is all in addition to their pre-existing role as the regulator of a host of other health and safety requirements in the workplace.

The Employment Standards Act – if you have employees, you’d better have a good lawyer, or an encyclopedic knowledge of this act, and all of the caselaw that accompanies it. A written agreement, written workplace policies, systems for dealing with reprimands and dismissals – all must haves. Making a misstep in this area will expose you to both civil and statutory damages.

Again, that’s not an exhaustive list by any means, but hopefully it’s enough to drive home the point that there are a complicated set of rules about how to do business in Ontario. If you have any questions about those rules, or require assistance in some way, do not hesitate to contact us.

Scott R. Young