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Happy anniversary! An employment lawyer’s perspective on employment anniversaries

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On July 8, 2015, I celebrated my 2nd year anniversary of practicing law with my colleagues at Rubin Thomlinson. As a lawyer in my 18th year of practice, I have celebrated many anniversaries, however, this most recent one caused me to pause and think about the importance of anniversaries in the employment law realm.

I have found over the years that when I asked employees what their date of hire was, many of them could remember the exact day, month, and year. I think an employment anniversary date is like a birthday and, like a birthday, it certainly feels like something to be celebrated. While many employers choose to acknowledge anniversary dates by way of a card or some other token, some choose to provide their employees with a monetary payment or gift card of some form. While all of these are lovely ideas, the monetary gift is a form of compensation and employers should be careful to consider whether the “gift” they are providing is a benefit which should be included in employees’ income for the year and, therefore, taxable.

As I considered the importance of anniversary dates further, my mind turned to the congratulatory words that I have witnessed being given to others or have in fact received myself.  My favourite congratulatory note was:

“You are…terrifically tireless, exceptionally excellent, abundantly appreciated and…magnificent beyond words! So glad you’re part of our team! Happy anniversary.”

While the above note was beautifully worded and a wonderful expression to the individual celebrating their anniversary, I could imagine that it would not be of assistance in a case where an employer terminates that same employee on the basis of performance-related issues. Obviously, congratulatory notes should not overstate an employee’s contribution or value to the organization otherwise an employer runs the risk of not only sounding disingenuous at the time the note is given, but any later attempts to defend a termination on the basis of performance-related issues could be met with skepticism in the face of a note such as the one above.

Of course, aside from keeping track of anniversaries in order to celebrate them with employees, there are employment law-related reasons for tracking anniversary dates. In some provinces in Canada (Québec, for example) increases in vacation entitlements coincide with years of service.  Additionally many employers provide stock or stock option plans with vesting dates which coincide with employee anniversary dates. Also, across Canada, termination entitlements increase alongside years of service. Therefore, employers should have systems in place to record employee years of service in order to ensure that the associated compensation entitlements that legally accrue are in fact provided.

And so, with each passing year, while employers celebrate continuing loyalty and dedication to their company by celebrating employee anniversaries, they should also remember that there are legal issues to consider as well.

Patrizia Piccolo

About the Author: Toronto Employment Lawyer, Patrizia Piccolo, is a trusted advisor to senior executives in transition; provides strategic advice and training to both large and small employers and their human resources and management teams; and is entrusted by employers and their counsel to conduct investigations into harassment and other problematic workplace behaviour. She also advises employers on employment-related regulatory issues including, Employment Standards Act, Human Rights Act, Labour Relations Act and Workplace Safety and Insurance Act compliance.