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Arbitrator finds employer violated OHSA workplace-violence obligations

A labour arbitrator has found that a mental health organization violated the Occupational Health and Safety Act when it failed to take certain workplace-violence precautions.

The organization provided services to persons with mental health issues, including securing housing.

A Case Manager with the organization became aware that a client had sent another client a text suggesting that he wanted to sexually assault the employee.  The organization decided to bar the client from contact with the employee and from attending drop-in sessions. Nevertheless the client attended drop-in sessions on at least two subsequent occasions.

The arbitrator found that the organization did not have any means of preventing a client from texting another client an offensive text that threatened an employee.  However, the organization, having barred the client, failed to ensure that the client “heeded the injunction” and stayed away. That was a violation of the OHSA.  There was no evidence that the employee encountered the client at any of the drop-ins after he was barred, so there was no basis for an award of damages.

In a second incident, the employee reported that she felt threatened by a client.  The employee’s notes included references to the client “‘leaning over writer’, ‘shouting about aliens’, invading her personal space ‘as he kept tapping her on the knee’, becoming ‘extremely agitated’, leaning over the Grievor, speaking about eating humans and making ‘a sudden strangling gesture towards [the Grievor]’, referring to having been on probation in connection with charges of sexual assault of a woman, ‘leaning over [the Grievor] in an aggressive manner and she had to push him back away from her’, being told by the Grievor that his behaviour was threatening and that he does not respect her personal space, ‘advancing towards [the Grievor] on a couple of occasions screaming about aliens, homosexuals and radiation, invading the Grievor’s personal space, and, finally, charging the Grievor, pushing her forcefully in the chest, and causing her to lose her balance.’

The organization directed the employee to stay out of that client’s residence based on her perception of a threat, but she ignored that direction.  The arbitrator decided that the organization had violated the OHSA by failing to ensure that the employee complied with the employer’s direction. Again, no damages were warranted, but the arbitrator granted a “declaration” that the employer had breached the OHSA.

Ontario Public Service Employees Union, Local 548 v Cota Health, 2016 CanLII 81970 (ON LA)

Arbitrator finds employer violated OHSA workplace-violence obligations

Employee who forged 16 sick notes, then tried to blame her manager, was fired for cause

A Canada Revenue Agency employee who forged signatures on 16 sick notes was fired for cause, a federal adjudicator has decided.

The employee had a problem with absenteeism and started missing work without calling in. The employer reminded her of the sick leave policy including the requirement that she provide medical notes.  The letter said that failure to comply could lead to discipline or termination.

Over the next ten months, the employee forged signatures on 16 medical notes.  When confronted, the employee said that her illness was alcoholism and she had been too drunk to go to a doctor when she called in sick.  The employee was unapologetic and attempted to deflect blame onto her manager for requiring her to produce medical notes, and said  “You would not want me to drive drunk”. She said she had numerous personal issues including her brother’s death and her mother’s declining health.

The employer said that the falsified sick notes had resulted in the employee getting 216 hours of paid leave and 218.5 hours of unpaid leave. The paid leave was valued at approximately $9,300.00.

The adjudicator stated that there was no expert evidence that alcohol dependency caused the employee to forge the notes or removed her inhibitions to do so. As such, the employee had not shown that her dismissal was discriminatory because of disability.

The adjudicator stated that “There is no question that her actions amounted not only to misconduct but also to serious misconduct.”  He held that the employee had been dishonest on a number of occasions.  Further, she had tried to blame others.  Although she had 25 years of service, she had not pursued rehabilitation in any meaningful way.  The adjudicator therefore held that the employer had just cause to dismiss her.

McNulty v. Canada Revenue Agency, 2016 PSLREB 105 (CanLII)

 

Employee who forged 16 sick notes, then tried to blame her manager, was fired for cause

GHS (WHMIS 2015) online courses now available

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety has released two online courses on WHMIS 2015, which implements the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS).

One course is for managers and supervisors, and is intended to help them understand their duties under the WHMIS 2015 (GHS) legislation.  The other course explains the purpose of safety data sheets and the information contained in them.

The law provides for a transition period to GHS.  By December 1, 2018, the transition to GHS must be complete for all parties, including employers.  By that date, employers should have no hazardous products with old WHMIS labels and safety data sheets.

More information on the training courses may be found here.

GHS (WHMIS 2015) online courses now available

Regulation still required compliance with older ANSI standard, not updated version: Tribunal

Where the government had not updated a regulation to require compliance with a newer version of an ANSI (American National Standards Institute) standard, the law still required compliance with the old version, a federal tribunal has decided.

Section 2.9 of the Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations required that “A fixed ladder installed after the day of the coming into force of this section shall be designed, constructed and installed in accordance with the requirements of ANSI Standard A14.3-1984 entitled American National Standard for Ladders — Fixed — Safety Requirements, as amended from time to time, other than section 7 of that Standard.”

That 1984 ANSI standard was replaced by new versions in 1992 and 2008.

The Occupational Health and Safety Tribunal Canada decided that the 1984 ANSI continued to govern – not the 1992 and 2008 versions – because the 1984 standard was the one referred to in the regulation.  The 1992 and 2008 versions were “replacement” versions, not “amended” versions of the 1984 standard.  The 1984 ANSI standard did not require that “swing gates” be installed at the openings of rest platforms on fixed ladders, and therefore the Direction issued by a federal safety officer was rescinded.

Richardson Pioneer Limited, 2016 OHSTC 16 (CanLII)

 

Regulation still required compliance with older ANSI standard, not updated version: Tribunal

“You’re kind of close to those wires”: excavator operator guilty of OHSA charges after hitting power line

An excavator operator has been found guilty of two Occupational Health and Safety Act charges after hitting a power line.

The operator, who was working on a road construction project, was planning to load the excavator onto the float bed of a truck to take it to another worksite.  The truck driver parked under a power line. The operator commented that “You’re kind of close to those wires”, to which the truck driver said, “it’s all right”.

The operator then moved the excavator and hit the power line, which carried 69,000 volts.  The truck driver received an electric shock and fell.  The operator was able to revive the truck driver, who suffered injuries including burns and was off work for a year.

The judge found that the excavator operator was “clearly apprised of the dangerous situation”, as shown by his comment that the truck was “kind of close” to the power line and his statement to the government safety inspector that, “I seen the wires, I knew the wires were there.”  He should have, at the least, refused to load the excavator until the truck was completely away from the power line.  The judge said that “this was clearly an avoidable workplace injury”.

The judge found the operator guilty of two OHSA charges: failing to take every reasonable precaution to protect the safety of himself and others, and carrying out work within 6 metres of a power line without knowing the voltage of the power line.

R. v. Jardine, 2016 NSPC 22 (CanLII)

“You’re kind of close to those wires”: excavator operator guilty of OHSA charges after hitting power line

New Alberta Bill 208 seeks to provide protection against workplace bullying

On November 9, 2016, Calgary MLA Craig Coolahan introduced Bill 208, Occupational Health and Safety (Protection From Workplace Harassment) Amendment Act, 2016. This Bill seeks to address workplace bullying by introducing provisions dealing with harassment into Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety Act.

Currently, Alberta’s occupational health and safety legislation contains requirements relating to workplace violence. However, since “violence” is defined in the legislation as conduct that caused or is likely to cause physical injury, the existing requirements do not apply to many cases of workplace harassment.

The proposed amendments include a definition of “harassment” that would require the conduct to constitute a threat to the health or safety of the worker. The amendments would add a specific obligation on employers to ensure, as far as it is reasonably practicable, that its workers are not exposed to harassment in their employment. It would also add an obligation on workers to refrain from causing or participating in the harassment of another worker. Employers would be required to establish and administer a workplace harassment policy and investigate complaints of workplace harassment. Workers who are not satisfied with the outcome of the employer’s investigation process would have the option to file a complaint with an officer.

Bill 208 can be found here.

New Alberta Bill 208 seeks to provide protection against workplace bullying

Work-refusing employee did not have right to delay investigation for 2 hours until her preferred union representative could attend

A correctional officer did not have the right to delay her employer’s investigation of her work refusal for two hours while her preferred union representative attended to “personal” matters.

The correctional officer’s union was nearing a strike deadline. The employee and five other correctional officers attended at work and engaged in a work refusal when they learned that 50 of their colleagues had called in sick and that the institution was being run by management on that day.

The employer advised that it wished to engage in a “Stage 1” work refusal investigation. The employee asked for a certain union representative to assist her, and asked to wait two hours while that union representative, who was not at the workplace at that time, attended to personal matters. The employer advised the six correctional officers that if they did not participate in the investigation, they would be deemed to have abandoned their work refusal, which the employee took as a “threat”.

The other five officers agreed to have another union representative assist them, but the employee did not. She then filed a reprisal complaint with the Ontario Labour Relations Board alleging that the employer’s “threat” was a reprisal that violated the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The OLRB disagreed. The OLRB noted that the OHSA required the employer to investigate the work refusal “forthwith” after the work-refusing employee has “promptly” reported it.  The OHSA also provided that any representative of a work-refusing employee “shall attend without delay”. As such, the employee had no right to representation, in the work refusal investigation, by a union representative who was not in the workplace and not available for two hours.  As a result, the employer’s “threat” did not violate the OHSA as the employer was not threatening the officer for engaging in a work refusal per se, but rather for holding up an investigation which the OHSA requires to be conducted “forthwith”.  The employer was entitled to tell her that her refusal to participate in the work refusal process in a timely manner could be taken as an abandonment of the work refusal which could lead to disciplinary consequences if the employee continued to refuse to work.

Lynda Kathleen Gough v Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre, 2016 CanLII 74661 (ON LRB)

Work-refusing employee did not have right to delay investigation for 2 hours until her preferred union representative could attend

City bylaw prohibiting hookah smoking in licensed businesses for health and safety reasons is valid: Court

The City of Toronto Council had the legal authority to make a by-law that prohibited hookah smoking in licensed establishments, an Ontario judge has decided, given the city’s valid health and safety concerns.

The City of Toronto Act gave City Council the power to make bylaws respecting the “Health, safety and well-being of persons”.

The city presented evidence that hookah smoking was hazardous to health and that hookah smoke included some of the same cancer-causing chemicals associated with tobacco.

A group of owners of hookah lounges attacked the bylaw. One of their arguments was that the bylaw violated the Occupational Health and Safety Act because it would cost workers their jobs whereas the purpose of the OHSA, according to the owners of the hookah lounges, was to “protect jobs”.  The court rejected that argument, deciding that the reason for the bylaw – health and safety –  was consistent with the purpose of the OHSA which was safety of workers.

The court stated:

“It is difficult to see how the by-law operationally conflicts with the OHSA.  The OHSA is designed to protect workers.  It regulates workplaces in the interests of worker safety.  It is difficult to see how compliance with the by-law makes it impossible to comply with the OHSA.  Moreover, it is very clear that it is public policy in Ontario to discourage smoking and protect people (including workers) from the effects of tobacco smoke: Smoke Free Ontario Act.  While that Act only applies to tobacco, the objective (healthier citizens) is broader.  A by-law that protects workers does not frustrate the objectives of the OHSA.”

The judge concluded by saying that he had a great deal of sympathy for the owners of the hookah lounges.  “They run modest businesses that are otherwise lawful and compliant with pertinent regulations and by-laws.  They make an important contribution to the diversity that makes life in our city so culturally rich and vibrant.  It is unfortunate for them that Council chose to prohibit rather than regulate hookah use in establishments licenced by the City to carry on business.  That was a policy decision by elected officials.  It is my duty to determine whether the by-law is legally valid, not whether it is good policy or bad policy.”

2326169 Ontario Inc. v The City of Toronto, 2016 ONSC 6221 (CanLII)

City bylaw prohibiting hookah smoking in licensed businesses for health and safety reasons is valid: Court

Three days in jail for owner of roofing business after trying to deceive MOL inspector

The owner of a roofing business has landed in jail for three days after trying to trick a Ministry of Labour inspector following a workplace accident.

Three workers were working on a residential roofing project but the owner did not make fall protection equipment available to them.

According to the MOL press release, after one worker fell 18 feet and injured himself, the owner directed another worker to go up on the roof and set up lifelines and fall protection equipment in order to deceive the MOL inspector.

The owner pleaded guilty to two OHSA offences: attempting to obstruct and interfere with an inspector, and failing to ensure that a worker was protected by a method of fall protection.

The court jailed the owner for three days on the obstruction/interference charge and imposed a $5,000.00 fine on the other charge.

Although for many years there were very few jail terms imposed by courts for OHSA violations, the courts are increasingly willing to impose jail terms for serious violations including attempting to deceive MOL inspectors.

The Ministry of Labour’s press release on this case may be accessed here.

Three days in jail for owner of roofing business after trying to deceive MOL inspector

Employer’s Safety Concerns Were Not Sufficient to Avoid its Obligations Under its Collective Agreement

An Employer was required to revert to a previous shift schedule in accordance with its obligations under the collective agreement, notwithstanding its claim that the previous shift schedule was less safe.

Initially, the majority of the employees at the Employer’s mine worked a rotating 2X2 shift schedule whereby employees each worked 12 hour shifts. They worked 2 day shifts, had a 24 hour break, followed by 2 night shifts and then 4 days off.

In 2014, after more than a year of negotiations, the Employer and the Union entered into a Memorandum of Agreement which included 2 Letters of Understanding setting out a new shift schedule. The new shift schedule was a 4X4 rotating shift. Employees would continue working 12 hour shifts but would do so in 4 day shifts, followed by 4 days off, then work 4 night shifts, followed by 4 days off.  The agreement was for a 9 month trial period after which employees would vote on whether they wanted to continue permanently with the 4X4 schedule, or return to the previous 2X2 schedule.

At the end of the 9 month trial period, the employees voted against a permanent change to the 4X4 schedule. Pursuant to the agreement, the Employer was required to return to the previous schedule within 60 days. The Employer refused, citing safety issues. During the trial period, it had monitored safety and performance indicators which it believed demonstrated that the 4X4 configuration was safer and more productive than the 2X2 arrangement. For instance, the Employer claimed that the trial period had yielded the lowest number of total incidents, with a 23% overall reduction, in spite of the Employer encouraging greater incident reporting. Although this was an unintended consequence, the Employer concluded that it could not, in good conscience, return to a shift arrangement it considered to be less safe. The parties discussed numerous options but were unable to come to an agreement. Both the Union and the Employer filed grievances.

The arbitrator found that the Employer was required to return to the 2X2 schedule in accordance with the agreement and in light of the results of the employees’ vote. The arbitrator then considered whether the Employer’s safety concerns were sufficient to justify its refusal to return to the 2X2 shift as required. The arbitrator accepted that the safety improvements were real but was not persuaded that a return to the 2X2 shift could be categorized as unsafe or in violation of the Employer’s obligations under the occupational health and safety legislation. The arbitrator found it difficult to conclude the 2X2 shift was unsafe given that the Employer had operated this shift for decades and agreed with the Union’s point that improved safety was not a “trump card that can simply be pulled out to defeat collectively bargained consequences.” Overall, the evidence fell short of establishing that a return to the 2X2 shift would be unsafe. The arbitrator appeared to acknowledge that the Employer may have an overriding right to impose a new schedule based on safety issues, despite its collective agreement commitments; however, it compared that right to the employees’ right to refuse unsafe work as a right that had to be exercised seriously and sparingly. Having the right did not mean that employees could refuse work because there may be a somewhat safer way of doing the work.

The arbitrator ultimately upheld the Union’s grievance and directed the Employer to return to the previous 2X2 schedule as soon as possible. However, he urged the parties to work together to develop alternative schedules if the Employer considered it necessary. He also urged the Union and its members to give renewed attention to the safety considerations involved and not to let other issues direct attention away from proposals that offered a demonstrable improvement in safety.

SunHills Mining LP v. United Steelworkers Local 1595, 2016 CanLII 71922 (Alta. GAA)

 

Employer’s Safety Concerns Were Not Sufficient to Avoid its Obligations Under its Collective Agreement

After being told that she should just “quit” if she felt unsafe, dismissed employee awarded $15,000 in damages

A charity has been ordered to pay a dismissed employee $15,000 in damages for dismissing her shortly after she had raised safety issues, in violation of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The charity ran retail stores that helped fund its operations. The employee was supervisor of the book room at one of its stores.

The Ontario Labour Relations Board stated that it was clear that on the day the employee was dismissed, that the employer was aware of several attempts by the employee to exercise her rights under the OHSA.  On one occasion, the executive director told her that if she felt unsafe at work, she should just “quit”.

The executive director admitted that it was “common knowledge” that the employee was “involved in OHSA”; that the employee had spoken with a Ministry of Labour inspector during a recent visit to the workplace; that the employee had been instrumental in having a worker member elected to the joint health and safety committee, and later had herself been elected; and that the employee had refused to perform unsafe work (moving a large quantity of books) approximately one month before her dismissal.  The OLRB held that “any one” of these admissions would have called in doubt the reason given by the employer for dismissing her – a restructuring of the workplace.   This was especially true given that the restructuring of its workplace would involve an expansion which would require the hiring of additional employees.

As such, the OLRB decided that the employer had failed to discharge its onus under the OHSA to establish that its dismissal of the employee was not a reprisal for asserting her rights under the OHSA.

The OLRB awarded the employee $15,062.00 including $8,780.09 for loss of her job and $3,500.00 for emotional pain and suffering (including for demoting her, shortly before the termination, in front of her coworkers).

Leah Podobnik v Society of St. Vincent de Paul Stores (Ottawa) Incorporated, 2016 CanLII 65109 (ON LRB)

After being told that she should just “quit” if she felt unsafe, dismissed employee awarded $15,000 in damages

Appeal of MOL compliance order adjourned while related OHSA prosecution ongoing, despite City’s objection

The Ontario Labour Relations Board has adjourned an appeal of a Ministry of Labour inspector’s compliance order against the City of Sudbury while a related prosecution under the Occupational Health and Safety Act is ongoing, despite the City’s objection.

The MOL laid charges under the OHSA against the City and Interpaving Limited in the Ontario Court of Justice.  Evidently a Ministry of Labour inspector also issued a compliance order against the City. The City appealed the order to the OLRB and the MOL asked the OLRB to adjourn that appeal while the prosecutions (charges) were ongoing in court.  Interpaving agreed that the appeal should be adjourned but the City disagreed.

The OLRB decided that the appeal of the inspector’s compliance order should be adjourned. The issues in that appeal overlapped with the issues in the prosecution. Continuing with the OLRB appeal would likely result in witnesses being required to testify and be cross-examined, which could cause prejudice to the MOL, the City and Interpaving in the prosecutions. Allowing the appeal to proceed first could interfere with the prosecution or result in inconsistent judgments on the same issues. Also, there was no ongoing issue with respect to the appeal because the MOL inspector’s compliance order that was under appeal had been suspended and the work completed.

The OLRB therefore adjourned the appeal for one year, subject to possible further extensions if the OHSA prosecution in the Ontario Court of Justice was not completed within that year.

This decision is consistent with the OLRB’s practice of adjourning appeals of MOL inspectors’ compliance orders while a prosecution, arising out of the same incident or accident, is ongoing in court.

City of Greater Sudbury v A Director under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, 2016 CanLII 67485 (ON LRB)

Appeal of MOL compliance order adjourned while related OHSA prosecution ongoing, despite City’s objection

Federal employee has effective veto over appointment of “impartial” workplace violence investigator, as long as veto not exercised in “abusive” manner: Tribunal

A federal employee’s objection to the appointment of a workplace violence investigator was valid, the Occupational Health and Safety Tribunal Canada has decided, because the investigator was not “seen by” the employee as impartial.  Although this decision legally affects only federally-regulated employers (those subject to the Canada Labour Code), it is likely of interest to provincially-regulated Canadian employers too.

The employee, Mr. Chartrand, claimed that he had been abused and harassed in the workplace.  Another employee claimed that Chartrand had himself engaged in workplace violence and harassment.

The investigator in Chartrand’s complaint decided that the complaint was “inadmissible” and that it was impossible for him to confirm whether the alleged actions had taken place.  Chartrand asserted that the investigator was impartial because he did not meet with the witnesses that Chartrand had referred to him.  A different investigator in the second complaint concluded that the complaint against Chartrand was justified.

The Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations require, in section 20.9, that if the parties are unable to resolve a workplace violence complaint, the employer must appoint a “competent person” to investigate who is “impartial and is seen by the parties to be impartial“.

The Tribunal stated:

[55]           The legislator clearly preferred a consensual approach to the issue of impartiality. By including the words and is seen by the parties to be impartial after the word impartial, the legislator clearly requires the parties to agree on whether the person proposed by the employer is impartial . . . If an agreement is not reached, the proposed person simply cannot be appointed.

[56]           From this it can be inferred that the legislator considered it vital that the parties agree on the impartiality of the person designated to conduct the investigation whose objectives are described in subsection 20.9(3) and et seq. of the Regulations. There is no doubt that the objective sought by the legislator is to ensure the credibility of the recommendations that this person must provide at the end of the investigation and to promote their acceptance by all of the parties involved.

The Tribunal decided that it is up to the employer to appoint a “competent person” to investigate but that person’s impartiality must be genuine and seen as such by the parties.  The employee’s refusal to agree that an investigator was impartial need not be “substantiated and justified” but it must not be abusive.

The Tribunal noted that an “abusive or discriminatory” approach by an employee in the selection of an “impartial” investigator could lead to discipline against the employee or be interpreted as a waiver of the employee’s rights to have a competent person appointed under the Canada Labour Code to conduct an investigation into workplace harassment or violence.

The Tribunal decided that Chartrand had not abused his rights in this case.  The Tribunal noted that Chartrand was at the centre of a number of disputes with his employer, and this could explain his distrust of the employer’s representatives and his belief that the investigation would be harmful to him from the outset.

Maritime Employers Association v. Longshoremen’s Union, CUPE, Local 375, 2016 OHSTC 14 (CanLII)

Federal employee has effective veto over appointment of “impartial” workplace violence investigator, as long as veto not exercised in “abusive” manner: Tribunal

Alberta’s Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission frees purchaser of the poor WCB record of the company it acquired

In this case, a public company (Newco) had purchased the assets and undertaking of a business (Oldco) as part of a larger national transaction.  Newco then carried on the business under a new name and a new corporate structure.  The WCB had conducted a risk assessment and decided to combine Newco and Oldco’s experience records.  Oldco had a poorer than average experience record compared to its risk class; therefore, the result of the combination was that Newco was forced to assume Oldco’s poor risk assessment.  This resulted in higher WCB premium costs to Newco.

Newco requested a review of the WCB’s decision from the Dispute Resolution and Decision Review Body (DRDRB). The DRDRB upheld the decision and Newco then appealed that decision to the Appeals Commission for the Alberta Workers’ Compensation.

The Appeals Commission reviewed the WCB’s policies and governing legislation.  The WCB’s policy provides that when the ownership of a business changes, the WCB will typically review the situation to determine if a combination of experience records is warranted. Thus, Newco’s acquisition of Oldco triggered a review to assess whether there had been a change in the risk.

The Appeals Commission reviewed the criteria set out in the WCB policy that should be considered by the WCB when considering its risk assessment:  ownership, affiliation and control, business continuity, continuity of management personnel, change in financial and operational control, continuity of health and safety programs and disability management, intercompany transactions, and the transfer of workers between businesses.  The WCB policy does not weigh these criteria and thus the process is discretionary.

The Appeals Commission ultimately concluded that the changes implemented by Newco had resulted in a substantial improvement in the risk profile of Oldco. Therefore, it was not reasonable for the WCB to combine Oldco’s unfavourable experience record with Newco’s.  The Appeals Commission relied on the following factors:

  • Oldco was an “orphan division” that did not have a corporate structure focused on occupational health and safety matters;
  • There had been no overt efforts by Oldco’s directors or executives to manage or improve its occupational health and safety aspects;
  • Newco was a division of an international organization that intended to operate the business in accordance with the high standards expected of an international organization;
  • Newco had an explicit plan to revise the business’ safety culture and focus on preventative safety;
  • Newco revised the organizational structure of Oldco, with executives in place who were specifically tasked with the responsibility for workplace safety;
  • Newco rebranded Oldco, putting its own reputation in jeopardy if it failed to properly Oldco’s short comings;
  • Newco made several capital investments to enhance Oldco’s safety;
  • Newco brought in an appropriate corporate structure to support its safety initiatives; and
  • Newco introduced numerous safety protocols that were wholly absent in Oldco.

The Appeals Commission found that these factors suggested a significant improvement in Oldco’s risk profile and overwhelmed the other policy criteria in this case.  The Appeals Commission placed significant weight on the importance of having an effective corporate management structure in place to deal with occupational health and safety matters.  It described Oldco as “drifting without corporate oversight, direction or investment” and without an established safety program. Under Newco, the business had a sophisticated safety program in place and the appropriate structure to ensure that the safety program were adhered to.  Therefore, it was not appropriate to combine the experience records.

This decision highlights yet another consideration for potential purchasers of a business and notes the risks associated with taking over a business that has a poor WCB record.  It also highlights some of the steps that a purchaser can take to minimize the risk that it ends up being saddled with the vendor business’ WCB failings.

Decision No. 2016-0534, 2016 CanLII 66308 (AB WCAC) http://www.canlii.org/en/ab/abwcac/doc/2016/2016canlii66308/2016canlii66308.pdf

Alberta’s Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission frees purchaser of the poor WCB record of the company it acquired

OLRB dismisses union’s “fishing expedition” in safety case: documents requested from MOL and employer were not arguably relevant

The Ministry of Labour and the employer were not required to hand over certain documents requested by the union in a safety dispute, the Ontario Labour Relations Board has decided.

The issue in dispute was whether the employer was required to de-energize cables prior to entry into “Cable Chamber 428″. A Ministry of Labour inspector decided ” no” and the union appealed to the OLRB. A worker had engaged in a work refusal.

The union asked the OLRB to order the MOL and employer to provide documents in numerous categories identified by the union, including any injury or near-miss or accident report involving energized cables from 1999 to present, and any reports of “cable chamber explosions”.

The OLRB decided that the documents requested were not arguably relevant to the appeal in issue, which dealt only with Cable Chamber 428.  The union’s request for documents was “overly broad and lacks the precision needed to make any production order.   It is also a fishing expedition that could unnecessarily protract this proceeding”.  Further, the employer had already produced numerous documents including those it intended to rely upon at the hearing.

Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 1 v Toronto Hydro-Electric System Limited, 2016 CanLII 65523 (ON LRB)

OLRB dismisses union’s “fishing expedition” in safety case: documents requested from MOL and employer were not arguably relevant

Bill 132 update: OHSA amendments are now in force; MOL updates plain language guide on workplace violence and harassment

As we have previously reported, Bill 132’s amendments to the workplace harassment provisions of the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act came into force on September 8, 2016.

On September 13, 2016, the Ministry of Labour published an updated version of its guide, Workplace Violence and Harassment: Understanding the Law (the “Guide”), which now includes guidance on the Bill 132 amendments.  The Guide seeks to explain, in plain language, “what every worker, supervisor, employer and constructor needs to know about workplace violence and harassment requirements in the Occupational Health and Safety Act” and also answers frequently asked questions about the OHSA. In particular, the Guide clarifies the following points about the OHSA’s workplace harassment provisions:

  • The suggested content of a workplace harassment policy, which is not otherwise set out in the OHSA;
  • Examples of “reasonable action” that do not constitute workplace harassment under the OHSA;
  • That employers can combine their workplace harassment policies and programs into one document or combine both documents with other workplace policies of the employer (e.g. workplace violence policies, anti-harassment or anti-discrimination policies, etc.), as long as all of the OHSA’s requirements are complied with;
  • That someone either internal or external to the organization can receive reports of workplace harassment, as long as the report is addressed objectively and investigated in an appropriate manner;
  • The characteristics of an “appropriate” investigation, including: who can investigate complaints, suggested stages of a complex investigation, and suggested timeframes for completing investigations;
  • Examples of “corrective action” and how to provide the results of the investigation to involved parties in situations where the alleged harasser has left the organization;
  • When and how employers should conduct a review of their existing workplace harassment programs;
  • The scope of the employer’s duty to provide workers with “information and instruction”; and
  • Who is an “impartial person” who could conduct a harassment investigation ordered by a Ministry of Labour inspector under the OHSA’s new enforcement mechanism.

The Ministry of Labour confirms that, unlike the Ministry’s Code of Practice for Workplace Harassment (which we reported on here), adherence to the contents of the Guide does not constitute compliance with the law. However, the Ministry also notes that its health and safety inspectors may refer to the Guide when enforcing compliance with the OHSA. As such, the Guide is a helpful resource for employers when creating, reviewing and implementing their workplace harassment policies and programs. The Guide can be accessed here.

Bill 132 update: OHSA amendments are now in force; MOL updates plain language guide on workplace violence and harassment

After accepting guilty plea, prosecutor cannot reargue trial court’s decision to exclude evidence of worker’s injury when setting fine

The Ministry of Labour cannot reopen a Justice of the Peace’s decision to exclude evidence that a worker was injured, where the defendant company later pleaded guilty to Occupational Health and Safety Act charges and the prosecutor accepted the plea.

At trial, the Justice of the Peace decided to exclude the testimony of the worker who was apparently injured in a workplace accident.  The company then decided to plead guilty to one charge and the prosecutor withdrew the other charge against the company and a separate charge against a contractor to the company.

The parties then argued about the fine, and the Justice of the Peace again excluded the evidence of the apparently injured worker when setting the fine. Presumably the court imposed a fine that was lower due to the lack of any evidence about worker injuries.

The Ministry of Labour thought the fine was too low.  It appealed the decision on the fine, and sought on the appeal to reargue the Justice of the Peace’s decision to exclude the worker’s testimony in considering how much the fine should be.

The appeal judge decided that, having “actively participated” in the guilty plea which ended the trial, the MOL was bound by the Justice of the Peace’s decision to exclude the worker’s evidence about his injury and could not reopen that issue on appeal.  The appeal judge recognized that the result of his ruling on that issue may well end the appeal, because evidence about the worker’s injury would not be considered in arguments about the amount of the fine.

Ontario (Ministry of Labour) v. Ontario Power Generation, 2016 ONCJ 299 (CanLII)

After accepting guilty plea, prosecutor cannot reargue trial court’s decision to exclude evidence of worker’s injury when setting fine

Men without hardhats: where freedom of religion loses out to workplace safety

Freedom of religion and the duty to accommodate within the workplace context is a highly important issue in Québec given the discrimination provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as the Québec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. Employers and employees must work together to attempt to reconcile the right to freedom of religion of employees with the legal obligations imposed on employers under occupational health and safety laws. Quebec courts have been frequently called to rule on this particular subject over the years.

Most recently, in the case of Singh et al. v. Montréal Gateways Terminals et al., the Superior Court of Québec was called to rule on the issue as to whether individuals of the Sikh religion could be exempted from a work policy implemented by the Montréal Gateways Terminals (“MGT”), Empire Stevedoring Co. Ltd. and Termont Terminals Inc. (collectively the “Defendant Terminals”). This policy required all workers to wear a hardhat when circulating outside on the premises of the terminals. The Plaintiffs, truck drivers whose work included transporting containers, claimed that their religious belief prohibited them from wearing such hardhats. Accordingly, they maintained that this policy was discriminatory and violated their right to freedom of religion. Upon adopting the policy, MGT tried to accommodate the Plaintiffs by modifying its container loading procedures which enabled them to stay in their vehicles and, hence, avoid wearing hardhats. However, these measures were rejected by the Plaintiffs as they claimed that they involved significant disadvantages.

This issue was decided upon on September 21st 2016 by Mr. Justice Prévost, J.C.S., who ruled that although MGT’s policy was prima facie discriminatory and violated the right to freedom of religion as regards to the Plaintiffs, it was nevertheless justified given the imperative objectives of such policy.

In reaching his decision, Mr. Justice Prévost, J.C.S., began his analysis by examining the principles with respect to discrimination enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Québec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. To that effect, this decision is of significant importance as it is a rare case of transposition of the protections granted under the Québec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms to a federally-regulated workplace. He established that the policy was in fact discriminatory since the Plaintiffs could not meet the requirement of wearing a hardhat without violating their religious beliefs and, thus, could not work at the terminals operated by MGT. He also confirmed that the policy violated the Plaintiffs’ right to freedom of religion as their belief was sincerely held and the challenged policy interfered with the Plaintiffs’ ability to act in accordance with their beliefs in a manner that was more than trivial or insubstantial.

Nonetheless, Mr. Justice Prévost, J.C.S., held that the policy implemented by the Defendant Terminals was justified as it was adopted in order to ensure the safety of workers circulating or working in the terminals operated by the Defendant Terminals. There was in fact a substantial risk of head injuries for truck drivers when they were required to circulate outside their vehicle on the premises of the terminals. In rendering his decision, Mr. Justice Prévost, J.C.S., also underlined the importance of health and safety at work within the Québec society.

Empire Stevedoring Co. Ltd., Termont Terminals Inc. and the Montreal Port Authority were represented by Vikki-Ann Flansberry from Dentons Montreal.

Singh et al. v. Montréal Gateways Terminals et al. 2016 QCCS 4521

Click on the link to have access to the decision (available in French only)

Men without hardhats: where freedom of religion loses out to workplace safety

Worker entitled to asbestos records for government building he worked in, but not list of employees in building

A worker was entitled to asbestos records for the government building he worked in. However, he was not entitled to a list of government employees who worked in the building and therefore who may have been exposed to asbestos, a B.C. freedom of information adjudicator has held.

The worker asked for and was given records in relation to air quality and discovery of asbestos in two government buildings.  He was denied access to an email containing a list of government employees who worked in the building.

The employee appealed. The adjudicator refused access to the employee list. She decided that the government had gathered the names of employees for the purposes of possible future workplace health and safety claims.  As such, the list related to employees’ “employment history” and this should not be disclosed. Also, because the context in which the list was created indicates that the employees in the building may have been exposed to asbestos, the list would reveal information about “medical history”. That was another reason why, under the freedom of information legislation, the list should not be disclosed.

While the case deals with government-owned buildings, the decision perhaps demonstrates some workers’ anxiety about asbestos in buildings and their perceptions regarding risks to their health.

British Columbia (Finance) (Re), 2016 BCIPC 46 (CanLII)

Worker entitled to asbestos records for government building he worked in, but not list of employees in building

Safety topic was emphasized, not “buried in hundreds of power point slides”: employer establishes due diligence, not guilty in workplace fatality

A Saskatchewan employer has been found not guilty of six occupational health and safety charges after a worker died of suffocation when he became engulfed in a grain receiving pit.  The employer’s extensive safety program had emphasized, not buried, the relevant training.

The charges alleged that the employer failed to properly train and instruct the employee regarding safety.

The employer showed that the employee had received computer based training on various topics including confined space safety. He had completed 12 such training modules, 4 of which dealt with the “dangers of engulfment”. At the end of each module, he took a test on which he received a grade of at least 80% which was the pass rate. He also took 5 hands-on training courses including one relating to safe-work permits.

The training materials were replete with references to the dangers of entering a confined space such as a receiving pit. The materials were extensive.  The court rejected the prosecutor’s argument that the confined space training was “buried in dozens of [computer based training modules] in hundreds of power point slides” and therefore would have been “lost” on the worker.  Instead, the court found that the “mass of material emphasized the dangers, and the importance of following safety procedures, rather than burying them.”

Also, there was not a “culture of paying lip service” to safety that would have “detracted” from his safety training.

In this case, the worker was not directed to do anything involving a receiving pit. Instead, he had been given an “innocuous” task which he had also done an hour earlier – to simply take a flashlight and look into the pit to see whether it was empty or there was grain in it.  There was no reason for the employer to think that he would enter the receiving pit. In any event, the employee was properly trained for the work that he was directed to do. The employer had successfully shown due diligence.  All six charges were dismissed.

R v Viterra Inc., 2016 SKQB 269 (CanLII)

Safety topic was emphasized, not “buried in hundreds of power point slides”: employer establishes due diligence, not guilty in workplace fatality