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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

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

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

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

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

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

“Competent supervisor” obligation relates to competence in safety, not in performance management: OLRB dismisses OHSA retaliation complaint

A laid-off worker’s safety-retaliation complaint under the Occupational Health and Safety Act has been dismissed because it was really a complaint about management’s assessment of his performance – not about safety.

The worker complained that after management “split supervision” of his department between two supervisors, the supervisors were not “competent” as they did not understand the workplace and work requirements, leading to the worker receiving unfavorable performance reviews.  He claimed that this violated the employer’s duty under the OHSA to appoint a competent supervisor.  He also said, in his safety-reprisal complaint to the Ontario Labour Relations Board, that he had been laid off in retaliation for raising this issue.

The OLRB noted that under the OHSA, “competence” of a supervisor is to be considered in the context of the health and safety purposes of the OHSA.  It does not include concerns about the expertise or experience of supervisors to give directions or evaluate work.

Here, the worker’s complaints, which had continued for several years before he had been laid off, were about his frustration with management’s perception of his performance and their failure to change his job classification.  His complaints were not about safety.  Therefore, he had not been retaliated against under the OHSA and his OLRB proceeding was dismissed.  The worker later asked the OLRB to reconsider its decision, and that request was also dismissed.

Jean (John) Dionne v MacLean Engineering, 2016 CanLII 45959 (ON LRB)

“Competent supervisor” obligation relates to competence in safety, not in performance management: OLRB dismisses OHSA retaliation complaint

Persistent “sexual annoyance” of five female coworkers gets employee fired for cause, despite late reporting of incidents

A shelter support worker’s persistent pattern of sexual comments to five female coworkers justified his dismissal for cause, despite the coworkers’ failure to promptly report the incidents, a labour arbitrator has decided.

The coworkers complained that he had persistently commented about his sexual exploits, his body parts, the coworkers’ body parts, and how he wanted to have sex with certain coworkers and clients.  They also complained that he had made obscene sexual gestures.

The employee claimed that all of the allegations were false and that the five female coworkers had conspired to get him fired because they were upset about him winning a grievance that awarded him a certain job.  He noted that there had never been “hint” of him engaging in such conduct in his 25 years as a support worker and 7 years with this employer. He also noted that none of the coworkers reported the incidents at the time they allegedly happened.

The arbitrator stated that if there had been only one complainant, the case would have been different.  Here, however, there were five complainants.  Absent any evidence that the coworkers conspired to perjure themselves to get the employee fired, the arbitrator could not find that they had.

With respect to the coworkers’ failure to report the incidents promptly, the arbitrator stated:

“There were shortcomings in the evidence of the five female co-workers who testified against Mr. Elmi.  On the face, the most troubling was the failure of any of them to have reported Mr. Elmi’s alleged misconduct at the time.  However, given that it was sexual arrogance and not sexual coercion, given that none of these witnesses were aware at the time that the others were being subjected to the same abuse, given that there were no witnesses and given that there was no thought that Mr. Elmi would be terminated such that even if reported the female might again work unsupervised and alone with Mr. Elmi, I do not find it surprising that the alleged misconduct was not reported at the time.  In the final analysis I have been persuaded by the consistent and unshaken central assertion of these witnesses; that is, that Mr. Elmi engaged in persistent and particularly offensive sexual annoyance. When all the evidence is considered and weighed, I accept the central assertion of the five female bargaining unit co-workers who testified against Mr. Elmi. Accordingly, I reject Mr. Elmi’s denials and hereby find that Mr. Elmi engaged in persistent, pervasive, unwelcome and extremely offensive sexual annoyance in the workplace.”

As such, the arbitrator decided that the employer had just cause for dismissal. Since the employee was not remorseful, and had made a “blanket denial” of all of the allegations, it was not appropriate to reinstate him and give him another chance.

Ottawa (City) v Ottawa-Carleton Public Employees’ Union, Local 503, 2016 CanLII 59377 (ON LA)

Persistent “sexual annoyance” of five female coworkers gets employee fired for cause, despite late reporting of incidents

Supervisor’s OHSA conviction upheld on appeal: prosecutor not required to prove what “hazard” caused concrete worker’s death

A supervisor’s Occupational Health and Safety Act conviction of failing to sufficiently and competently supervise work has been upheld on appeal, after a concrete worker died.

The supervisor operated and managed a concrete business.  He was hired to pour a concrete floor in a newly constructed shop.  They used a gas heater to heat the area.  The supervisor became aware that the gas supply hose to the heater produced an electric shock when touched. He warned workers but did not fix the problem.

The worker, who had been trowelling concrete, was later found lying on the floor near the gas heater.  He was later pronounced dead.  The treating doctor observed two red areas on his skin, which were consistent with electrocution.

The prosecutor’s theory at trial was that the worker died from electrocution.  The supervisor suggested that the death was from carbon monoxide poisoning from the gas heater so that the charge, based on electrocution, should be dismissed. Both the trial judge and Court of Appeal disagreed, holding that the contention that the worker died from carbon monoxide poisoning was speculative and not supported by the evidence.

The Court of Appeal further noted that the charge did not specify what “hazard” caused the death, and accordingly the prosecutor did not need to prove the cause.  As such, the supervisor was properly convicted of the “failure to supervise” charge under the OHSA.

R v Farnham, 2016 SKCA 111 (CanLII)

Supervisor’s OHSA conviction upheld on appeal: prosecutor not required to prove what “hazard” caused concrete worker’s death

High school machine shop teacher loses work refusal case

A machine shop teacher’s work refusal was not justified, an appeals tribunal has decided, given that the teacher had the ability to manage the class environment to ensure safety.

The teacher refused to teach the class if there were more than 16 students present, stating that a larger class size would put his safety at risk.

The teacher argued that adolescents were prone to act in an unpredictable manner when working with machinery, risking creating “projectiles and other hazardous situations”.

In dismissing the teacher’s appeal from the decision of a health and safety officer, the tribunal noted that the collective agreement set the maximum class size at 29 and that the New Brunswick Department of Education recommended a class size of 18 to 22. As such, the teacher’s personal limit of 16 was not justified.

Most importantly, the teacher had the ability to provide less hands-on teaching and more class time, which would help manage safety in the classroom.

The tribunal stated:

“While it is obvious that the teaching experience will suffer, it was apparent from the appellant’s testimony that less hands-on experience and more classroom time will ensure the safety of the students. While students may not like less hands-on training, the issue before me concerns whether the January 8, 2016, decision should be overturned.”

As such, the teacher’s appeal was dismissed.  His work refusal was not justified under the New Brunswick Occupational Health and Safety Act.

20168017 (Re), 2016 CanLII 57012 (NB WCAT)

High school machine shop teacher loses work refusal case

OHSA conviction, $48,000 fine upheld on appeal: “blocking” of machine required physical block

An Ontario Appeal judge has upheld an employer’s conviction under the Occupational Health and Safety Act for failure to “block” a machine, after the trial justice held that “blocking” required a physical block, not simply shutting off the hydraulic power.

The Ontario Ministry of Labour had charged the company with failing to ensure that a “part of a machine, transmission machinery, device or thing shall be cleaned, oiled, adjusted, repaired or have maintenance work performed on it only when . . . any part that has been stopped and that may subsequently move and endanger a worker has been blocked to prevent its movement”, contrary to section 75(b) of the Industrial Establishments regulation under the OHSA.

A maintenance worker with the company, which operated a sawmill, suffered crushing injuries to his arm as he reached in between the “side heads” of a saw while performing maintenance.  Another employee, not knowing that the maintenance worker had gone into the area between the side heads, had used the control box for the machine to close the side heads.

The machine had been shut down for maintenance and its electrical system had been locked out.  However, the maintenance worker left the hydraulics on, which was required in order to move the side heads for maintenance.

The appeal court held that the trial justice had not erred in deciding that “blocking” required a physical block be used to restrain movement of the side heads.  It was reasonable to interpret “blocking” to require that a physical block, a “large solid piece of hard material” be used.

The conviction was therefore upheld. The appeal judge also held that the $48,000 fine was reasonable, despite the fact that the company had only 25 workers and no previous convictions under the OHSA.

Ontario (Ministry of Labour) v. McKenzie Lumber Inc., 2016 ONCJ 533 (CanLII)

 

OHSA conviction, $48,000 fine upheld on appeal: “blocking” of machine required physical block