New additions to Cassels’ employment law practice have different backgrounds, but share same goals

Dianne Rideout and Michelle McKinnon share their views on state of employment law

New additions to Cassels’ employment law practice have different backgrounds, but share same goals
Dianne Rideout and Michelle McKinnon are new additions to Cassels’ employment law practice

The two new additions to the employment and labour group at Cassels Brock & Blackwell in Vancouver – Dianne Rideout and Michelle McKinnon - come from vastly different backgrounds, but both share a love for the work they do.

Rideout, a partner who regularly advises domestic and international clients on provincial and federal employment law, hiring, discipline, termination, human rights, and wrongful and constructive dismissals, says she is “one of those people that, like a lot of lawyers, grew up wanting to be a lawyer.”

In fact, her first love was science with the goal of going to medical school, but she realized after getting her undergrad degree that she “didn’t really love it.” So, the native of Newfoundland and Labrador decided to get her MBA at the University of New Brunswick, which also allowed her to combine that degree with law.

She went into the program thinking, “I’ll do the law portion, and it will open up opportunities as a businessperson, but by the end of the first year, I was hooked on the law portion – I just really fell in love with it.”

She moved to Vancouver in 2004, doing a big chunk of her articling period in employment and labour law, and loved how it was practical and had a day-to-day impact. She worked at boutique law firm Harris and Company LLP for 12 years and eventually made her way to McMillan LLP in 2020 to grow its employment law group in Vancouver.

McKinnon, a native of South Africa, in comparison with Rideout, knew “from a very early age” that she wanted to become a lawyer. “I never really considered anything else. While at first, the appeal was, “in my mind, all very flashy – about people arguing in court,” as she studied at law school at Stellenbosch University, near Cape Town, she learned to appreciate the less theatrical aspects of being a lawyer.

After finishing law school, McKinnon said she knew she didn’t want to do securities or tax law and was “definitely more inclined to the litigation side.” However, she did not want to be a “pure litigator,” so she eventually found her employment and labour law niche.

“It has a little bit of everything in it. There is a lot of advisory work, but there is also a lot of transactional work. It is a good mix. And that is what appealed to me in employment and labour law.”

Called to the bar, she practiced as a lawyer in South Africa for eight years. Then, in 2018, she and her husband decided to emigrate and chose Canada. They arrived at the end of 2018, and McKinnon was requalified as a lawyer in British Columbia, then started working at Harris, where she met Rideout. The two clicked, with McKinnon saying Rideout was one of her mentors.

About a year after Rideout moved to McMillan, McKinnon joined her there, and this spring, the two moved to Cassels, where McKinnon acts for business and government bodies in matters relating to employment, labour relations, and human rights. She also has experience in disputes involving corporate governance and conflicts of interest.

The two focus on the employer side of employment and labour, working with private employers and corporations, often those starting up businesses in Canada. “We’ve done a lot of work with those types of corporations, helping them sort of get established concerning the employment policies, practices, and procedures that they require for their business and their employees here in Canada.”

McKinnon adds that while litigation cannot always be avoided, a large part of their practice is advisory work to help lawyers comply.

One of the trends both have seen, especially since the pandemic, is the growth in employment and labour law. Says McKinnon: “Having arrived soon after the pandemic, much of my work at first focussed on advising employers on pandemic-related issues. But coming out of COVID, we started to see a lot of issues that didn’t get dealt with during the height of the pandemic come to the surface. There were pent-up issues that had to be addressed.”

Rideout adds that workplace issues like hybrid and remote work have emerged like never before.

“I think the hybrid workplace question is something that people are still struggling with - employers wanting employees to come back to work and employees that have had the opportunity to work remotely wanting to continue to do so.”

Labour shortages are also aggravating the issue, certainly in some sectors. This situation has made it easy for a mobile workforce to find suitable workplace arrangements.

“I really think that is a major issue that will continue for some time.”

McKinnon and Rideout point out that, generally, employers have a right to dictate where their employees work. However, being too dogmatic about all staff back in the office 100 percent of the time could mean having many of their best and brightest leave.

“Whether employees should come back to the office or work from their own is generally up to the employer,” says Rideout, “the struggle is a more practical one. Are you going to cause employees to be unhappy and go elsewhere?”

The other practical issue is that allowing people to “work from anywhere” policies might conflict with labour and employment laws that could differ from province to province and country to country. It might be necessary to stipulate that if people are going to work remotely, they can only do it from within the province where the company is based.

Another issue that is coming to the forefront is pay transparency, with laws coming into effect in BC (and other provinces) focused on making compensation more apparent to employees.

McKinnon says, “Employers here are very much focused on getting compliant with the right policies, updating their recruitment practices and reviewing compensation to make sure they =have the pay equity and transparency in place.”

Another issue will be the increasing use of artificial intelligence and its impact on the workplace.

“To say it may be the end of civilization as we know it as AI replaces employees may be too dramatic, but AI is developing at a very fast pace,” says McKinnon. “I think it will be interesting how it plays out in the labour context, whether it’s union agreements, privacy, productivity, and accuracy of the work done by AI, for example.”

Rideout adds that employment and labour law has seen a boom lately, which will likely continue. “Whether it’s a booming economy or an oncoming recession, employment law touches everyone,” says Rideout. “The questions will be how do we retain employees and manage our workplace, or, at the other end, how do we reduce the workplace in a legal and fair way.”

Add developing technology like AI to the mix, and both lawyers suggest the practice of employment law will continue to grow.

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