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Employee Dismissed for Demanding Bonus and Saying that Employer “Could Fire Him”, Not For Raising Safety Concerns, Court Decides

An employee’s demand for a bonus and assertion that his employment relationship would not be “fruitful” and that his employer could fire him, was the reason for his dismissal, a court has decided. The dismissal was not retaliation for raising safety concerns.

The employer did environmental assessment and testing. The employee was a laboratory manager. In December 2009, the employer told him that he would not get a performance bonus because he did not meet the criteria. In early January of 2010, the employer told staff that there was a general slowdown of work.

Early on January 11th, the employee sent an e-mail to the employer complaining about not getting a bonus. He ended the e-mail by saying that he did not think the working relationship would be fruitful in the future, and that if the employer was not satisfied with his productivity, it could fire him. In the same e-mail, he complained that a “hood for bulk sample analysis” should be replaced. Later the same day, the employer did indeed terminate his employment, referring to his “apparent employment dissatisfaction”.

The employee then filed a complaint with the Workers’ Compensation Board of British Columbia, arguing that he had been dismissed in retaliation for raising safety issues, including those mentioned in the e-mail. The Board disagreed, finding that the employee had been dismissed in direct response to the e-mail, and that the e-mail primarily related to his bonus; the termination was unrelated to any occupational health and safety concern.

The employee’s appeal to the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Tribunal was dismissed. The WCAT noted that some of the safety issues raised in the employee’s Board complaint were not in the employee’s e-mail. Although the employee had raised safety concerns earlier – before sending the e-mail – he had not been able to prove any relationship between his raising of those concerns and his dismissal.

The employee then tried to attack the WCAT’s decision in the B.C. Supreme Court. The court found that the WCAT’s decision was based upon the evidence. The decision was upheld.

Despite popular perception, safety-retaliation / reprisal cases are difficult for employees to win in Canada. Where, as in this case, the employer is able to show that there is another reason for the termination, courts and tribunals will often be hesitant to find that the employee was dismissed for raising safety issues.

Goghari v. Saarela, 2014 BCSC 1667 (CanLII)

Employee Dismissed for Demanding Bonus and Saying that Employer “Could Fire Him”, Not For Raising Safety Concerns, Court Decides

B.C. Appeal Court Clarifies Workplace Accident Reporting Obligations

The employer of the injured worker, not the owner of the workplace, was required to report the worker’s injury, the B.C. Court of Appeal has held, in a decision that clarifies employers’ accident reporting obligations.

The worker was injured while working on a powerline owned by British Columbia Hydro and Power Authority. The worker worked for a contractor to B.C. Hydro.

The Workers’ Compensation Board of British Columbia issued an order citing B.C. Hydro for failing to report the accident. The order referred to section 172(1)(a) of the Workers Compensation Act, which provides:

“An employer must immediately notify the Board of the occurrence of any accident that (a) resulted in serious injury to or the death of a worker”.

B.C. Hydro argued that it was not the worker’s “employer”. The Board maintained that the reporting obligation applied to “an employer” – not just the employer of the injured worker. “An employer”, said the Board, should include the owner of the worksite because it had a significant connection to the worksite and was in the best position to provide the timeliest notification to the Board.

The court decided that the Board’s decision was unreasonable. B.C. Hydro was not legally required to report the accident to the Board.  The Act did not impose a duty on owners to report accidents. Further, requiring owners to report accidents under s. 172(1)(a) would effectively require owners to carry out other obligations of “employers” under the Act including investigating the accident, preparing an accident report, and taking corrective actions. The legislature could not have intended to impose all of those obligations on owners.

In conclusion, the worker’s employer was required to report the accident to the Board, but B.C. Hydro was not.

Although the B.C. Court of Appeal did not mention the Ontario Court of Appeal’s recent Blue Mountain Resorts Limited  decision, which dealt with accident reporting obligations in Ontario, both decisions attempt to bring clarity and consistency to the government’s interpretation of accident-reporting requirements.

British Columbia Hydro and Power Authority v. Workers’ Compensation Board of British Columbia, 2014 BCCA 353 (CanLII)

B.C. Appeal Court Clarifies Workplace Accident Reporting Obligations

Despite Having WSIB Coverage, Worker Permitted to Sue “Physically Demonstrative” Executive Officer who “Massaged” her Neck

Physically demonstrative managers beware: your company’s workers compensation coverage does not necessarily protect you from lawsuits by employees.

Even though her employer had Workplace Safety and Insurance Board coverage, an employee was entitled to bring a lawsuit against an executive who “massaged” her neck, allegedly injuring her, Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal has ruled.

However, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act prohibited her from suing her employer for the neck injuries.

The employee alleged, in her court action, that the executive officer had injured her when he manipulated her head and neck without her consent, thereby committing assault and battery. The worker had a prior neck condition affecting her shoulder.

The executive officer was known to be physically demonstrative and had been warned by the employer’s human resources manager not to touch employees or customers unless it was necessary.

The WSIAT decided that because the employee was in the course of her employment at the time of the injury, she could not sue the employer.

However, she would be permitted to sue the executive in the courts if she could prove that he was not acting in an employment-related capacity when he massaged her neck.

The WSIAT decided, on the facts of this case, that in administering the massage, the executive “deviated substantially from his regular activity as an executive officer”. The conduct had nothing to do with his work duties, which was shown by the warning from the human resource manager. As such, he was not acting in an employment-related capacity when he massaged her neck, and the employee was permitted to sue him in the courts.

Decision No. 727/13, 2014 ONWSIAT 1128 (CanLII)

Despite Having WSIB Coverage, Worker Permitted to Sue “Physically Demonstrative” Executive Officer who “Massaged” her Neck

Ontario Government Responds to Early Results of Mine Safety Review

The Ontario government says that it is acting on the early results of the Mining Sector Health, Safety and Prevention Review.

In December 2013, the province asked Ontario’s Chief Prevention Officer to undertake a review of the occupational health and safety issues related to the mining sector, focusing first on underground mines.  The review involves consultation with labour, industry, academic, health and safety experts, as well as members of the public.

According to the Ministry of Labour Press release, Ontario’s response to the preliminary work of the advisory group includes the following:

  • Promoting high visibility apparel to increase the visibility of workers;
  • Developing a mining health database that will track incidents of illness, exposure to a number of carcinogenic substances;
  • Increasing the focus on hazards in the new training standards for joint health and safety committees; and
  • Funding a study to be completed by Laurentian University that will look for ways to reduce loss of feeling in the feet triggered by continuous use of vibrating machinery, which is said to put workers at greater risk for slip and fall injuries, especially on high work platforms.

The government says that it expects the review to conclude in early 2015 with a report and recommendations.

The Ministry of Labour’s press release can be found here.

Ontario Government Responds to Early Results of Mine Safety Review

“Discipline” included “dismissal”: employer did not breach safety-reprisal settlement when it dismissed employee after harassment investigation

An employer that dismissed an employee after a harassment investigation did not breach a previous safety-reprisal settlement with the employee, the Ontario Labour Relations Board has held.  In effect, the employer never promised not to dismiss the employee.

The employee had previously filed a safety-reprisal Application against the employer at the OLRB which was settled. The settlement terms stated that the employee was aware that a harassment complaint had been made against him, that the employer intended to retain an external investigator, and that the investigation “may result in discipline”.

After the harassment investigation was concluded, the employer dismissed the employee. The employee then filed a breach-of-settlement Application with the OLRB claiming that there had been no discussion that “discipline” could include “dismissal”.  He said that, instead, there had been a “common understanding” that some form of discipline may result from the harassment investigation, but that the purpose of the discipline would be to correct any misconduct and ensure adherence to company rules and policies.

The OLRB decided:

“The applicant asserts no facts that would lead the Board to conclude that the parties meant to exclude termination as a possible disciplinary response by Brose.  The applicant does not say, for example, that he received an assurance from Brose in the lead-up to the settlement that Brose would refrain from terminating him, or that the range of any possible disciplinary response would exclude termination.  The plain words of the settlement do not qualify the term ‘discipline’.  And as I have pointed out, Brose’s anti-harassment policy specifically contemplates termination as a possibility where harassment is found to have occurred.”

Interestingly, in coming to its decision that “discipline” included “dismissal”, the OLRB noted that the company’s policy on Harassment in the Workplace stated that employees found to have engaged in harassment “will be subject to discipline up to and including termination” – commonly-used wording in employment policies.  This wording suggested that, at least at this company and at least with respect to harassment, termination was a “subset of dismissal”.

Jeffery v Brose Canada Inc, 2014 CanLII 49707 (ON LRB)

“Discipline” included “dismissal”: employer did not breach safety-reprisal settlement when it dismissed employee after harassment investigation

Employee’s lack of knowledge of OHSA was factor in denying him promotion; employee’s grievance dismissed

An employee’s lack of knowledge of safety laws was a proper consideration in his employer’s decision to deny him a promotion, a labour arbitration board has decided.

The employee, a unionized mechanic with the City of Moncton, applied for the position of Service Foreman-Mechanical.  His application was unsuccessful.  A coworker with less seniority won the position.  The employee filed a grievance under the collective agreement.

The issue was whether the employee had the qualifications to do the job.  One of the listed qualifications was “Knowledgeable in the Occupational Health and Safety Act and Regulations”.  The interview committee determined that he did not possess adequate knowledge of the Occupational Health and Safety Act and Regulations and that this was a requirement. The arbitration board noted that the employee did not even testify, at the arbitration hearing, as to his level of knowledge of that Act and the Regulations; as such, the arbitration board was unable to conclude whether he had the necessary knowledge.

The arbitration board noted that the union had vetted and approved the list of job qualifications prior to the job having been posted.  The arbitration board decided that the employee had also failed to prove that he had some of the other listed qualifications including supervisor experience and knowledge of certain computer applications.

The arbitration board closed by stating:

“There is no question in the mind of the Board the grievor was and is an extremely competent mechanic who may very well have been a competent foreman.  However, he did not provide adequate evidence, to support his contention of his capability to perform the job at the time of bulletining.  This is indeed unfortunate.”

Ryan v Moncton (City), 2014 CanLII 51635 (NB LA)

 

Employee’s lack of knowledge of OHSA was factor in denying him promotion; employee’s grievance dismissed

No OHSA Charges Laid in Death of Alberta Youth Home Worker

A 19-year-old has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder after he stabbed to death a youth worker at a supported independent living facility in Alberta in 2012.  At the time of her death, the worker was working alone overnight.  The boy was a resident of the home, which taught life skills to teens.

The Canadian Press reports that although Alberta Occupational Health and Safety investigated the death and provided the results of its investigation to the Crown, the Crown did not pursue any charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (see Teen who stabbed Alberta youth home worker pleads guilty to second degree murder).

According to the Edmonton Journal, the worker’s family has launched a lawsuit against the Government of Alberta in which they allege that her employer “failed to meet the standards of the Occupational Health and Safety Act and ‘intentionally, recklessly and negligently’ failed to make sure” that the worker was safe at work (see Family of slain Camrose caregiver sues Alberta government).

No OHSA Charges Laid in Death of Alberta Youth Home Worker

No damages awarded for unforeseeable workplace assault, but employer ordered to rewrite harassment policy

The fact that an employee had engaged in harassment did not make it foreseeable that he would assault a coworker, a labour arbitrator has held.  However, the company’s harassment policy was deficient and needed to be rewritten.

The decision arose from a union grievance alleging that the employer had not provided an injury-free workplace.  An employee, Kryzanowski, alleged that another employee, Wilson, had struck him in the head from behind with a “rather substantial sized plastic lunch pail”. The union alleged that the company had breached the collective agreement and the Saskatchewan Occupational Health and Safety Act because of its actions or inactions both before and after the incident.

The arbitrator stated that there was no doubt that the assault constituted harassment as defined in the OHSA.  ”A serious physical assault, such as this one, is perhaps the most profound single incident of harassment that exists.”  However, according to the arbitrator, the core question was whether the company, through its management personnel and supervisors, knew or should have known that Wilson was a physical threat to other employees and failed to take steps to prevent it.

The arbitrator decided that although Wilson had demonstrated “meanness and bullying” behaviour towards Kryzanowski through numerous disrespectful comments, and the company’s management were sufficiently aware of Wilson’s conduct to know that he was mean-spirited and had anger problems, none of his previous actions were physical alterations and there was no evidence that he was on the verge of physically attacking a fellow employee.  The assault was not foreseeable by the company.

As such, Kryzanowski was not entitled to damages for the assault.  However, the company was ordered to keep Wilson and Kryzanowski on different shifts and direct Wilson to have no contact with Kryzanowski.

Lastly, the arbitrator found that the company’s harassment policy did not comply with the OHSA and regulations in that it was not kept current and did not include specific contents required by the regulations.  The arbitrator ordered the company to “take immediate steps to comply with the Occupational Health and Safety Act by writing its harassment policy to be compliant with the Act and regulations.”

Shaw Pipe Protection Limited v Construction and General Workers’ Local Union No 180, 2013 CanLII 94439 (SK LA)

No damages awarded for unforeseeable workplace assault, but employer ordered to rewrite harassment policy

Ontario OHSA convictions at six-year low in 2013/14, average fine relatively steady

The number of Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act convictions was at a six-year low in the government’s fiscal 2013/14 year, Ontario Ministry of Labour statistics show.

There were 780 convictions in 2013/14, compared to the previous five years’ conviction numbers of 814 (in 2012/13), 903, 948, 1,164 and 1,303 (in 2008/09), a consistent downward trend over that six-year period.

The average fine per conviction in fiscal 2013/14 was $11,932, compared with $13,139, $10,821, $11,911, $11,091 and $10,849 over the previous five-year period.  Interestingly, this shows that the average fine has remained relatively steady over that period.

The MOL notes that more than one conviction may be related to a single incident.  For instance, one workplace accident on a construction site could result in two convictions against the constructor, three against a subcontractor and one against a supervisor.

Our extensive 2012 study of Occupational Health and Safety Act prosecutions and fines showed that 68% of companies charged with OHSA offences plead guilty, and fines negotiated with the MOL tend to be much higher than those set by the court after hearing submissions from the MOL and the defendant.

Note that the Ministry of Labour statistics include Part I contested tickets, Part I summonses and Part III prosecutions.  Our 2012 study looked at Part III prosecutions (reserved for more serious cases, which tend to involve significantly higher fines) and did not include Part I tickets or summonses.   Part I tickets and summonses carry a maximum fine of $1,000 per conviction while Part III prosecutions have a maximum fine of $500,000 per conviction.  As such, the average fines in our study were higher than those in the MOL statistics referenced above.

Ontario OHSA convictions at six-year low in 2013/14, average fine relatively steady

MOL safety blitz results show many new businesses non-compliant with basic requirements

The results of a recent Ontario Ministry of Labour safety blitz shows many new small businesses violate basic legal requirements such as posting a copy of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.  And non-compliant employers can expect future visits from MOL inspectors.

The MOL says that between April 1, 2013 and March 31, 2014, its inspectors visited new small businesses in the industrial sector that had fewer than 20 workers.  The MOL says that it focused on “businesses that had registered with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), but had no prior contact with the ministry.”

Some of the  most common compliance orders issued by MOL inspectors in the blitz were: post a copy of the Occupational Health and Safety Act; prepare a health and safety policy and maintain a program; have a worker health and safety representative; have the health and safety representative conduct monthly inspections; provide “information and instruction” on workplace harassment; and maintain a workplace violence prevention program.

The MOL states that inspectors visited workplaces in the industrial sector including retail establishments, restaurants, wood and metal fabrication establishments, industrial services, wholesalers, automotive manufacturers and vehicle sales and service workplaces.

The MOL’s  enforcement initiative is being repeated in the 2014-2015 fiscal year, with each MOL industrial inspector expected to inspect four to eight small businesses with 50 or fewer workers, which have not been previously registered or inspected by the ministry. The MOL says that this initiative will “increase small business awareness of the workplace parties’ roles and responsibilities under OHSA and its regulations”, “promote awareness and compliance with new mandatory occupational health and safety training for workers and supervisors that came into effect on July 1, 2014″, and “support vulnerable workers by making them aware of their rights under the OHSA and the resources available to help them”.

As we have previously advised, employers should, in particular, ensure that they prepare and post all required postings under the OHSA, since doing so will show the MOL inspector that the employer is aware of its basic obligations and has a safety program in place.  See here for our article on health and safety posting requirements in Ontario.

MOL safety blitz results show many new businesses non-compliant with basic requirements

“Don’t worry about me, I carry weapons”: employee’s violent statements warranted serious discipline but not dismissal

An electrician’s comment, “Don’t worry about me, I carry weapons” and “it would really feel good to kill something today” constituted workplace violence but did not warrant dismissal, the Ontario Labour Relations Board has held.

The employee had a strained relationship with an Electrical Foreman.   When a female co-worker noticed her in distress about the presence of the foreman, she offered to accompany the employee to the washroom. The employee then made the “weapons” comment, afterwards saying that she was referring to the tools that she carries such as an electrician’s knife and spud wrench, but that she would never harm anyone except to defend herself.  Later in the day, in a meeting with her supervisor and union representatives, she complained again about the foreman and said that she “had a knife”.

An investigator concluded that the employee had made “violent comments” and was emotionally unstable.

The OLRB decided that the employee’s comments “could reasonably be interpreted to constitute a threat to exercise injurious or potentially injurious physical force.”  However, there was nothing premeditated about the threats and there was no previous pattern of threatening conduct on her part. She was “guilty of having engaged in violent threats, but in comparing them with the kinds of behaviour in the cases cited to me by both parties, her comments were at the lower end of the spectrum.” 

The OLRB did not believe that the employee was likely to repeat “such extreme conduct” or that she was a threat to the safety and well-being of other employees.  The dismissal was, therefore, excessive.

Canadian Union of Skilled Workers v Hydro One Inc, 2014 CanLII 44660 (ON LRB)

“Don’t worry about me, I carry weapons”: employee’s violent statements warranted serious discipline but not dismissal

Employer asks HRTO for permission to access employer’s own “Occupational Health and Claims Management” file on employee

Must an employer obtain permission from the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario to access medical records held in the employer’s own file on an employee who filed a human rights complaint with the Tribunal? That question is raised by a recent Tribunal decision.

The employer submitted that Tribunal authorization was necessary “because there may be a conflict with respect to privacy standards required by applicable legislation. The respondent indicates that the expectations and protections under the Personal Health Information Protection Act, 2004 . . . for health information custodians regarding disclosure may be different from the duty imposed on employers by the Occupational Health and Safety Act . . . The respondent submitted that the Tribunal has granted the orders it seeks in other cases in which similar circumstances arose.”

The employer was likely referring to subs. 63(2) of the OHSA which states:

“No employer shall seek to gain access, except by an order of the court or other tribunal or in order to comply with another statute, to a health record concerning a worker without the worker’s written consent.”

Because the employee alleged disability-discrimination relating to her post-traumatic stress disorder, the Tribunal was satisfied that some but not all of the documents contained in the Occupational Health and Claims Management file were arguably relevant and that the employer required access to them in order to meaningfully respond to the employee’s human rights complaint.  Access was granted.

The case illustrates that employers seeking to use information in an employee medical file for litigation purposes should proceed cautiously and should seek a court or Tribunal order if necessary.

Feres v. Toronto Transit Commission, 2014 HRTO 980 (CanLII)

Employer asks HRTO for permission to access employer’s own “Occupational Health and Claims Management” file on employee

MOL permits employer to have multi-workplace joint health and safety committee, union’s challenge dismissed

A union has lost a request to suspend a Ministry of Labour Director’s order allowing a school board to establish a multi-workplace joint health and safety committee.

The Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act requires a joint health and safety committee at each workplace where twenty or more workers are regularly employed.  The default rule under the OHSA is that each workplace should have its own committee.  However, the Minister of Labour or his or her delegate has the power to make an Order permitting one joint health and safety committee to cover multiple workplaces.

The Peel District School Board received an Order from a Ministry of Labour Director permitting it to establish and maintain a multi-workplace joint health and safety committee according to certain “terms of reference”.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees challenged the MOL Director’s multi-workplace Order at the Ontario Labour Relations Board, and asked the OLRB to suspend that Order pending the outcome of the appeal.

The OLRB refused to suspend the Order, deciding that the OLRB “appears to have no jurisdiction to deal with anything but an inspector’s order”, not an Order of the Minister of Labour or an MOL Director.  As such, the OLRB had no authority to suspend the multi-workplace Order.

This decision shows that when one workplace party asks the Minister of Labour to permit a multi-workplace joint health and safety committee, the time for parties to make submissions is before the Minister (or MOL Director) makes his or her decision.  Effectively, there is no appeal to the OLRB.

Canadian Union of Public Employees v Peel District School Board, 2014 CanLII 38304 (ON LRB)

MOL permits employer to have multi-workplace joint health and safety committee, union’s challenge dismissed

MOL inspector’s grievance gives glimpse into MOL’s after-hours accident response process

Ministry of Labour managers have discretion as to whether to send out an inspector when an employer calls after-hours about a workplace accident, a recent decision suggests.

An MOL inspector filed a grievance under his collective agreement claiming that when a call regarding a workplace injury came in at 5:15 pm, the call should have been referred to him and not the on-call MOL manager. The manager had determined that there was no need to send an inspector to the workplace that night.  The accident involved a broken bone which was a “critical injury” (a worker lost her footing and jumped down the last 3 stairs) under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The inspector claimed that he would have gone to the workplace, at least to “secure the site”, and would have earned “premium pay” for his time spent on the visit.

A vice-chair of the Grievance Settlement Board noted that the “Ministry Operations Division Policy and Procedures Reference Manual” contemplated that only after-hours calls falling within certain categories including “critical injuries” are forwarded to the inspector on-call, and that the hotline operator could contact an MOL manager if he or she required clarification or direction on any issue.  The manager had the authority to conduct “triage” and not to send an inspector to the workplace that evening.

There was no violation of the collective agreement or of the Reference Manual, so the inspector’s grievance was dismissed.

Ontario Public Service Employees Union (Beaulieu) v Ontario (Labour), 2014 CanLII 40173 (ON GSB)

 

MOL inspector’s grievance gives glimpse into MOL’s after-hours accident response process

Alleging panic attacks due to mistreatment at work, employee’s HRTO application dismissed for duplicating court action

Employees may not raise the same human rights issue before the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario and the courts, a recent HRTO decision confirms.

The employee had commenced a court action in which he claimed that he was a person with a disability and as a result he experienced panic attacks.  He alleged that he had experienced panic attacks in part because of mistreatment at work.  He made essentially the same allegations in a disability-discrimination case at the HRTO, claiming damages for alleged violations of the Human Rights Code in both cases.

The HRTO dismissed his human rights Application, deciding that because the employee had started a court action claiming damages for alleged violations of the Human Rights Code and that court proceeding had not been finally resolved, section 34 of the Human Rights Code required that the HRTO proceeding be dismissed.  Duplicative proceedings were not permitted.

Toker v. 1044765 Ontario Inc., 2014 HRTO 1159 (CanLII)

Alleging panic attacks due to mistreatment at work, employee’s HRTO application dismissed for duplicating court action

Notes taken post-accident can lose privilege if used to refresh memory, court decision suggests

Privileged notes taken by a witness – or by the employer from a witness – after a workplace accident may cease to be privileged if used by the witness to prepare to testify in court, a recent court decision suggests.

The case, which was not an occupational health and safety case, involved charges of refusing to provide an “Approved Screening Device” sample. The charge is often laid where a driver refuses to blow into a breathalyzer to determine whether he or she was driving while impaired.

The accused testified that he had made notes after the incident, as his father had told him to write down everything that he remembered, word for word.  At trial, he testified that he had read the notes to prepare for trial.

The judge decided that the accused had used the notes to refresh his memory, and therefore the litigation privilege over the notes was lost.  The judge decided:

“When the accused chooses to refresh his memory from notes to which litigation privilege would otherwise apply prior to taking the stand, the Crown is entitled to see such notes subject to the court’s discretion. An accused person who has prepared notes to refresh their memory and uses those notes to the refresh their memory prior to testifying has waived any litigation privilege attached to those notes. It is important that the opposing party have the opportunity to test the memory of events and expose inaccuracies in memory.”

Employers facing Occupational Health and Safety Act charges should understand that notes that would otherwise be litigation-privileged that are taken by the employer after a workplace accident may lose their privilege, and therefore be obtained by the prosecutor, if used by a witness to refresh his or her memory before testifying.

R. v. Sachkiw, 2014 ONCJ 287 (CanLII)

Notes taken post-accident can lose privilege if used to refresh memory, court decision suggests

“Red flags” were used to assess workplace violence threat; employer’s request for psychiatric assessment was justified

The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario has ruled that the City of Toronto was justified in requiring an employee to obtain a psychiatric assessment because of “red flags” which included a comment, “Do you want me to die?”

The employee’s handling of a tense security-related incident involving anti-poverty activists was questioned.  When asked by a City security supervisor for more information about the incident, the employee said, “Do you want me to die?”   The supervisor testified that he found the comment, “Do you want me to die?” to be concerning and that he felt that he had an obligation to follow up for health and safety reasons. He testified that he was concerned as he did not know what was going on in the applicant’s mind.

Shortly afterwards, the City told the employee that it had made an appointment with a psychiatrist for him to obtain an assessment. The employee testified that he felt humiliated, but that he decided to go for the psychiatric assessment to prove that he was “mentally fit”, but that he also filed a complaint with the City’s Human Rights office due to the “coercive” act of sending him for a psychiatric assessment.  The employee’s supervisors did not receive the assessment report, but were simply told that the employee was fit to return to work without any restrictions from doing the tasks of the job.

The Tribunal decided that the referral to the psychiatrist was reasonable given that there were “red flags” present, as the City representatives were acting in good faith out of concern for health and safety and had determined that it would not be appropriate to impose discipline on the employee for his actions if they were related to a disability.  Also, there was no evidence that the City had broken confidentiality.

With respect to the “red flags”, the City’s Manager of Security and Life Safety had testified that there are “red flags”, which are relevant in assessing a workplace violence threat, which include “a lack of an immediate support system, a preceding event . . . and a change in character.” He said that the “red flags” that the City had identified were: “the applicant lived alone, was emotional, had stated ‘Do you want me to die?’ . . . and he had been uncharacteristically insubordinate.”

This decision suggests that where an employee’s behaviour raises “red flags” about his or her mental health such that the employee’s – or other employees’ – safety may be at issue, an employer may be justified in requiring the employee to submit to a psychiatric assessment.  In general, the employer is not entitled to receive the assessment report but is entitled to receive the assessor’s determination as to whether the employee is fit for work and able to work safely.

Mokri v. Toronto (City), 2014 HRTO 853 (CanLII)

“Red flags” were used to assess workplace violence threat; employer’s request for psychiatric assessment was justified

Ministry of Labour sued for hiring allegedly incompetent inspector

The Ontario Ministry of Labour is facing a negligence suit by the lone survivor of the Christmas Eve, 2009 scaffold collapse that resulted in Metron Construction being fined $750,000.00 for safety violations.

In the lawsuit against the MOL, Dilshod Marupov, along with other plaintiffs, alleges that the MOL failed to enforce statutory requirements for safety; failed to properly train its employees to inspect the scaffolding and enforce the statutory safety requirements; and hired employees who were incompetent and did not use the requisite care in inspecting the premises and the scaffolding, as well as other allegations.  The allegations have not been proven in court.

At examinations for discovery in the lawsuit, the MOL refused to answer certain questions including questions about the education, training and experience of its inspector assigned to the job site and about changes in certain MOL policies after the incident.  The plaintiffs brought a motion to the court, and Master Dash ordered the MOL to answer most of the refused questions.

The court noted that “core policy” decisions of government are protected from lawsuits, but governments can be liable where government agents are negligent in carrying out their duties.  The court noted that “it is an open question whether discretionary decisions by inspectors as to when or whether to inspect and frequency of inspections are core policy decisions” of the government or whether they are operational decisions of employees that may form the basis of a lawsuit for damages.

As we noted in a previous post, another lawsuit was filed against the MOL alleging “negligent inspection” of the Algo Centre Mall which collapsed in Elliot Lake.

Marupov et al v. Metron Construction Inc. et al, 2014 ONSC 3535 (CanLII)

Ministry of Labour sued for hiring allegedly incompetent inspector

Ontario employers to bear WSIB costs of injured agency employees

A new Ontario Bill will make employers liable for the WSIB costs of injured agency employees working for them.

Bill 18, which passed first reading on July 16, 2014, will amend the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act to attribute to an employer the WSIB accident costs of any temporary agency employee who is injured while working for them.

Previously, temporary agencies needed to bring a “transfer of costs” application to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board to have the WSIB attribute the accident costs to the employer instead of the temporary agency.  Once Bill 18 passes (the coming-into-effect date is not yet known), that will no longer be necessary.

Most employers will already be conscientious about the safety of agency employees working for them.  Bill 18 adds an additional incentive.

Bill 18, which amends a number of other Ontario laws including the Occupational Health and Safety Act (see our post of July 22nd) may be accessed here.

Ontario employers to bear WSIB costs of injured agency employees

Are supervisors able to assess impairment? Drug driving decision suggests so

A recent Ontario decision suggests that laypersons - such as supervisors – may assess whether a person is impaired from drugs or alcohol, and their assessment will be considered in legal proceedings.

In a “drug driving” case, a driver was found guilty of driving while impaired by marijuana.   A police officer approached his vehicle and observed him as having bloodshot, glassy eyes and the smell of marijuana was coming from the vehicle.  The driver’s pupils were dilated. The driver admitted to having smoked a “J” approximately 2 1/2 hours earlier.  He was taken to a police station where another officer, a “drug recognition evaluator”, observed him and performed certain physical and other tests, and concluded that he was impaired.

The driver argued, on appeal, that the drug recognition evaluator should not have been accepted by the trial judge as an “expert” witness on drug recognition.  The appeal court disagreed, going on to state that the courts have had a long-accepted practice of admitting evidence of non-expert witnesses about whether a person was intoxicated or impaired.

Interestingly, a urine test came back negative for THC, the active ingredient in marijuana that causes physical impairment, but the court still decided that based on the police officers’ observations and assessments, the driver was impaired when he was driving (even if he was no longer impaired when the urine sample was taken).

The appeal court referenced the Evaluation of Impaired Operation (Drugs and Alcohol) Regulations, which are used by police officers who are “certified drug recognition experts” to evaluate whether a driver is impaired by drugs or alcohol. Those Regulations set out a number of tests that those officers can perform to assess whether the person is impaired.

Supervisors often question whether they have the expertise to assess whether an employee is impaired. This decision suggests that supervisors’ observations are important and will be relevant evidence in legal proceedings, such as a wrongful dismissal action by an employee who was dismissed for being impaired at work.  Supervisors tasked with identifying impairment should, preferably, be given training and materials (such as a checklist) to help them in the task.

R. v. Henry, 2014 ONSC 4115 (CanLII)

Are supervisors able to assess impairment? Drug driving decision suggests so