By: David Liang

The global pandemic has hit Canadian small and medium enterprises (SMEs) hard. According to Stats Canada, SMEs have reported declines in revenue of up to 60 percent, with nearly half of those businesses that did lay off employees lay off more than 80 percent of their workforce.

“As provincial shutdowns continue, SMEs are heavily affected by work stoppages and supply chain disruptions,” explains Professor Samuel Dahan, Director of the Conflict Analytic Lab at Queen’s University. “These circumstances have forced businesses, particularly SMEs, to restructure their operations in order to mitigate the economic impact of COVID-19.” 

To assist these small and medium businesses with their employment questions, the Conflict Analytics Lab has updated its MyOpenCourt platform.  

MyOpenCourt, which has helped over 10,000 workers answer employment-related questions since its May 13 launch, can now help employers understand their rights and obligations under Canadian employment law. Employers may access the updated version of MyOpenCourt by selecting the “I am an employer” option when using our tools.  

The two tools available for employers are: 

The “Employee or Contractor” tool can determine the likelihood that a work arrangement is an employment relationship or that of a contractor through a fast, anonymous questionnaire. Misclassifying an entire class of employees or independent contractors can expose employers to severe liabilities. In particular, unpaid wages, overtime pay, and tax liabilities such as unpaid income tax and pension contributions. Employers are encouraged to explore this tool to ensure that their current and future workers are properly classified as to avoid potential penalties and liabilities.   

The “Termination Compensation Calculator” tool can determine an employee’s entitlements with respect to severance, minimum notice, and reasonable notice. Although employees may be legally laid off in response to economic shutdowns, employers navigating through the layoff process must ensure that they do not constructively dismiss their employees – thus entitling them to reasonable notice even when the layoff was initially legal. Employers should use this tool to assess their potential liabilities prior to making any decisions with respect to layoffs or terminations. 

The Conflict Analytics Lab is a research-based consortium concerned with the application of data science and machine learning to dispute resolution. The MyOpenCourt tools have been developed by students and researchers at Queen’s Law, the Smith School of Business, Queen’s Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, and partners like McGill University and institutions based in the US and Europe. 

Unfortunately, as of yet the tool cannot fully be used to generate case outcomes for Quebec-based employers.