The Federal Court has breathed new life into a government employee’s claim that “repeated exposure to her supervisor constituted a dangerous situation” that justified her work refusal under the Canada Labour Code. The case is a good example of how workplace harassment / violence complaints that appear trivial on their face can turn out to cause the employer significant headaches.
The employee was unhappy with the employer’s investigation. The matter was then referred to a federal Labour Affairs Officer who concluded that the existing situation constituted a danger for the employee. He recommended that the Labour Program’s Regional Director order the employer to take immediate action to correct the situation.
However, the Regional Director “refused to investigate” the work refusal, reasoning that the employee’s concerns would be more appropriately dealt with under the Public Service Labour Relations Act because of the grievances that the employee had already filed under that Act. The Regional Director told the employee that she was no longer entitled to refuse to be in the direct or indirect presence of her supervisor.
The court decided that the Regional Director’s decision was unreasonable. Given that the Labour Affairs Officer had already investigated the work refusal, the Regional Director had only three options under sections 129(4) and 128(13) of the Canada Labour Code: “1) agree that a danger exists; 2) agree that a danger exists but consider that the refusal puts the life, health or safety of another person directly in danger or that the danger is a normal condition of employment; and 3) determine that a danger does not exist.” The court also stated that even if the Labour Affairs Officer had not already investigated the work refusal, the Regional Director’s decision “was not justified, transparent or intelligible as it lacked any explanation as to why” the grievance under the Public Service Labour Relations Act was a more appropriate process to deal with the employee’s allegations of danger. It was also unclear as to why the Regional Director diverged from the Labour Affairs Officer’s decision.
As such, the court concluded that “the Regional Director’s decision lacks justification, transparency and intelligibility and as such, it is unreasonable and does not fall within a range of possible, acceptable outcomes which are defensible in respect of the facts and law”.
The court set aside the decision of the Regional Director and sent the matter back to the Minister of Labour or her delegate for reconsideration. The court awarded the employee $4,500.00 in legal costs.
Karn v. Canada (Attorney General), 2017 FC 123 (CanLII)