Following the Minister of Labour, Training & Skills Development’s announcement that inspectors would be visiting law offices and other workplaces “to make sure those inside and onsite are protected and following the COVID-19 safety requirements”, the OBA reached out to government to ensure that there is an understanding of, and respect for, the important rights and protections that are engaged any time there is the potential for a law office inspection, including the importance of protecting solicitor-client privilege.
What Lawyers Need to Know
The Ministry has provided the information below regarding the procedures that investigators will be required to follow for any workplace inspections:
Lawyers should specifically note the Ministry’s commitment that officers are not authorized to view any documents not related to COVID safety for the workplace and will not be entering individual offices or observing confidential meetings with clients.
The Ministry has indicated that the most common contraventions found to date during their business office investigations have been related to lack of safety plans and lack of/or inadequate screening.
We know lawyers understand the importance of protecting their staff, their clients and each other. We are here to help you do that. The OBA has a number of valuable resources to make it easier for you to practice remotely. Also, watch for the OBA’s law firm-specific screening tool, which will be available next week.
✔ Checklist for Your Remote Practice - from the basics to advanced
✔ Checklist for Preparing Your System for a Remote Hearing
✔ Checklist for Preparing Your Electronic Filings and Hearings
✔ CaseLines Training
✔ Remote Criminal Trial Demo and Resources
✔ Remote Commissioning - What You Need To Know - On-Demand CPD
The OBA has taken further advice to government on behalf of our members about specific issues that can arise in the context a law firm visit, such as:
- Inspectors should not view or request any list of visitors/clients, such as a firm may use to facilitate contact tracing, as this could disclose client names and jeopardize solicitor-client privilege;
- Inspectors should not inquire about the nature or purposes of any work being performed, including the essential nature of the services, as this is not related to workplace safety and jeopardizes solicitor-client privilege; and,
- Inspectors should provide notice or flexibility in carrying inspections where possible, given that many offices have significantly reduced on-site staff, such that lawyers present may be serving clients and unable to fairly respond to workplace related inquiries.
The Ministry advises that our comments have been provided to officials overseeing investigations, and we encourage members who have any specific concerns or feedback about law office inspections to let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org, so we can quickly address them with government.