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Court orders condo owner who harassed building management staff to cease and desist. OHSA harassment provisions applied

A condominium owner who called building management staff offensive and degrading names has been ordered by a judge to cease and desist from harassing them. The decision shows that the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act’s harassment provisions can require an employer to take steps to end harassment by third-parties.

The condo owner frequently and persistently emailed staff.  She also called them degrading names such as “obscenely obese”, “massive hulk” and “tubbo”. She suggested that she was deeply concerned about the management of the building.

The condominium corporation sought a cease-and-desist order from the court. The judge noted that the owner’s “verbal barrage has made work life intolerable” for the staff. The judge described her communications as “antisocial, degrading and harassing”.  Her conduct was workplace harassment under the OHSA. It was clearly unwelcome, and the employer had a legal duty under the OHSA to investigate it.

The judge ordered the condo owner to “cease and desist from uncivil or illegal conduct that violates the Condominium Act or the Rules” of the condo corporation. The judge also ordered her to pay the condo corporation $15,000 for its legal costs in the court proceeding.

York Condominium Corp No 163 v Robinson, 2017 ONSC 2419 (CanLII)

Court orders condo owner who harassed building management staff to cease and desist. OHSA harassment provisions applied

Safety officer, fired after company loses COR certification, wins wrongful dismissal lawsuit

A safety officer whose duties included maintaining his employer’s Certificate of Recognition (COR) certification was not fired for just cause, a court has decided. The company claimed that it lost its COR certification due to his failure to complete certain COR requirements by an end-of-year deadline.

The judge noted that the COR certification “recognizes a high standard of industrial/commercial safety and thereby creates several associated benefits for companies that maintain certification”, and “A COR designation gives a company significant credibility as a leader in high safety standards. Further, it is a prerequisite to serving certain clientele, such as the municipalities of Edmonton and Calgary, and creates significant reductions in WCB premiums.”

The company lost its COR certification when the safety officer failed to meet certain COR requirements including the requirement that an external auditor receive an application for an audit by the December 31 deadline.  The company viewed this as “‘potentially disastrous’ to the company, as it jeopardized several contracts with both the City of Edmonton and the City of Calgary.”

The court found that the safety officer naively believed that, despite the lack of assistance available to him, he could complete necessary internal safety audits in time or get an extension. The court stated, “Naiveté is not dishonesty.  I find he honestly believed that he would obtain this extension of time.”  The application for an extension of time was rejected, the company lost its COR certification, and the employee was fired.

The court noted that the safety officer had become very ill with an autoimmune disease. Also, his supervisor left the company and his new supervisor worked in another city, which meant that they would no longer have daily interactions. The court decided that the employer had repudiated the employment relationship by eliminating the assistance that the safety officer required from other employees to carry out his duties, and eliminating the supervision and support that he required.  The safety officer had pleaded for help and “this plea fell on deaf ears”.

As such, the termination was without just cause. The safety officer, who had four years of service and earned $82,400 per year, was entitled to six months’ notice of termination.  His damages, after deducting his mitigation income from new employment, were $28,709.00.

We understand that this decision has been appealed.

Tipon v. Fleet Brake Parts & Service Limited, 2017 ABPC 29 (CanLII)

Safety officer, fired after company loses COR certification, wins wrongful dismissal lawsuit

Worker entitled to sue coworker for failure to report absence of or defect in protective equipment: court

An Ontario judge has allowed an injured worker to proceed with his lawsuit against a coworker for failing to report the absence of or defect in fall arrest equipment.

The injured worker was hired by a friend to assist in roofing a customer’s house.  He fell from the roof and was badly injured.  He was not wearing appropriate fall arrest equipment.

The injured worker sued his friend and the homeowner.  He sought to later add a coworker and his company (who apparently were there on the day of the accident, and also completed the roofing work after the accident) as defendants to the lawsuit.  The coworker sought to have the claim against him and his company struck out, arguing that there was no legal cause of action against him. The judge disagreed.  He stated that the injured worker had an “arguable cause of action” against the coworker and his company for negligence, “informed by their failure to report . . . the absence of or defect in any safety equipment [the injured worker] used or any unsafe conditions or contravention of the OSHA [sic] or regulations thereunder, pursuant to s. 28(1)(c) or (d)” of the OHSA.

Those sections of the OHSA impose a legal duty on each worker to “report to his or her employer or supervisor the absence of or defect in any equipment or protective device of which the worker is aware and which may endanger himself, herself or another worker” and “report to his or her employer or supervisor any contravention of this Act or the regulations or the existence of any hazard of which he or she knows.”

Interestingly, the parties appear not to have argued whether the injured worker’s lawsuit was barred by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act because the injury arose out of and in the course of employment.

MacPherson v Samuel, 2017 ONSC 2024 (CanLII)

Worker entitled to sue coworker for failure to report absence of or defect in protective equipment: court

“Your ugly face”: employer’s condescending, aggressive, hostile and profane behaviour in one meeting resulted in constructive dismissal. Nurse awarded 24 months in damages

The Ontario Court of Appeal has upheld a 24-month damage award to a long-service nurse in a doctor’s office who believed that she had been fired during a hostile meeting with her employer.

The doctor for whom she worked wanted her to look into electronic medical records (EMR).  She was overwhelmed with a heavy workload and did not get to it.  The doctor angrily confronted her in a meeting, at which the doctor’s wife was also present.  The court found that the doctor, in his anger, said, “Go! Get out! I am so sick of coming into this office every day and looking at your ugly face.”  He also pointed at her, shouted at her, accused her of being resistant to change, and used profanity during that meeting.  The employee, distraught, left the meeting and never returned to work. The employer treated her as having quit. The employee sued for wrongful dismissal.

The trial judge decided that although the doctor did not intend to dismiss the nurse, he did in fact fire her when he told her to “Go! Get out!”

Even if the doctor had not fired the employee, he had constructively dismissed her, the trial judge stated.  Although the meeting was only one incident, it was sufficient to constitute a constructive dismissal.  The trial judge wrote:

“An employer owes a duty to its employees to treat them fairly, with civility, decency, respect and dignity.  An employer who subjects employees to treatment that renders competent performance of their work impossible, or continued employment intolerable, exposes itself to an action for constructive dismissal.  Where the employer’s treatment of the employee is of sufficient severity and effect, it will be characterized as an unjustified repudiation of the employment contract.”

The trial judge found that the doctor’s behaviour was condescending, aggressive, hostile and profane.  His conduct diminished the nurse’s stature and dignity in the office.  When the doctor saw the emotional impact that his comments had on her at the meeting, he did nothing.  He had made her continued employment intolerable, and effectively destroyed the employment relationship.

The trial judge awarded this 22-year employee 24 months’ salary in damages for wrongful dismissal.  The appeal court upheld this award.

The trial judge’s decision can be read here, and the appeal court’s decision here.

 

“Your ugly face”: employer’s condescending, aggressive, hostile and profane behaviour in one meeting resulted in constructive dismissal. Nurse awarded 24 months in damages

Workers flee during MOL investigation, roofing company fined for obstructing inspector

A roofing company has been fined $40,000 under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, including $15,000 for obstructing a Ministry of Labour inspector.

The MOL inspector had gone to the site because of a complaint.  He observed workers on the roof without fall protection, hardhats or safety boots.

According to the MOL press release, the company’s workers “fled the worksite during the investigation, and the company failed to respond to correspondence and the direction of the inspector.”

In additional to the $15,000 fine for obstruction, the company was also fined $20,000 for the lack of fall protection, $2,500 for the lack of hard hats, and $2,500 for the lack of protective footwear, for a total of $40,000.

The MOL press release says that the company had two prior convictions under the OHSA, and that the company’s owner has also been previously convicted and fined under the OHSA.

The Ministry of Labour press release may be found here.

 

Workers flee during MOL investigation, roofing company fined for obstructing inspector

Lunchtime car accident a matter for WSIB, not courts, WSIAT rules

The Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal has ruled that an employee who was injured at lunchtime in a car accident was barred from suing the other driver in court.  Instead, he must go through the WSIB for his injury benefits.

The employee, a sales manager for a food company, was taking his son and a daughter of a colleague to lunch in his company vehicle when the other driver ran a red light and collided with the vehicle.  The other driver was employed with a company that was registered with the WSIB as a “Schedule 1” employer.

The WSIAT ruled that even though it was lunchtime, the injured employee was “in the course of his employment” because on the same trip he planned to see a client and pick up a cheque for his employer, which was a regular task for him.  The car trip had a “dual purpose” and was not solely personal time.  As such he was entitled to claim WSIB benefits, and barred from suing the other driver in the courts because the other driver was employed with a “Schedule 1” employer.

The employee claimed that his employer had registered with the WSIB after the accident, and therefore that he was entitled to sue the other driver in the courts.  The WSIAT ruled that even if his employer has registered with the WSIB after the accident, the employer was a “Schedule 1” employer, and therefore the employee was not entitled to sue in the courts.

Decision No. 1572/16 (Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal)

Lunchtime car accident a matter for WSIB, not courts, WSIAT rules

OLRB confirms 30-day hard-stop deadline for appealing Ontario MOL inspectors’ compliance orders

A recent Ontario Labour Relations Board decision confirms that the 30-day deadline for appealing Ministry of Labour health and safety inspectors’ compliance orders under the Occupational Health and Safety Act cannot not be extended.

An MOL inspector visited a mortuary and issued five compliance orders including an order to seal certain flammable liquids in sealed containers of not more than 23 litres and in a special metal cabinet.

The employer filed its appeal of two orders with the OLRB 40 days after the MOL inspector issued those orders – that is, ten days after the deadline.

The OLRB stated:

There is no provision in the Act that permits the Board to extend the time period prescribed by subsection 61(1) of the Act within which an appeal must be made to the Board.  That is, the Board does not have the discretion to relieve against appeals that are filed beyond the statutory 30 day time frame . . .  Quite simply, the Board does not have the jurisdiction to extend the 30 day time period provided by the Act to appeal an inspector’s order.

As such, the OLRB dismissed the appeal in respect of the two orders that were appealed late.

The decision is a reminder to employers to ensure that if they intend to challenge MOL inspectors’ compliance orders, the appeal must be filed with the OLRB within 30 days.

Ottawa Mortuary Services v Egrmajer, 2017 CanLII 11813 (ON LRB)

OLRB confirms 30-day hard-stop deadline for appealing Ontario MOL inspectors’ compliance orders

Threats of violence, one day after “sensitivity training”, get worker fired for cause. He “may have a problem with women in the workplace, especially women managers”, says arbitrator

A worker who said, “If anything ever happened, like losing my job, I’d have no problem coming in here and shooting them”, a day after receiving sensitivity training relating to workplace violence, was dismissed for cause, an arbitrator has decided. The worker, a fare collector, had taken the training after giving the finger to an “obstreperous customer”.

He made the “shooting them” threat while speaking with a coworker about the materials from the training session, to which he remarked, ” Can you believe this?”  After the coworker tried to make light of the situation, the worker said that he would kill only managers, not union employees.

The coworker reported the threat to management, who then fired the worker, who filed a union grievance.

The arbitrator found that the worker had made the threat, despite the worker’s denial.
The coworker had no motive to make false allegations. The two employees had had a friendly relationship.

Despite the worker’s 25 years of service, the arbitrator decided that the employer had just cause for dismissal. The worker never admitted the threats nor apologized. He had a disciplinary history including discipline for an incident in which he was unable to control his anger. Significantly, he made the threats one day after taking sensitivity training designed to help him control his anger and understand the seriousness of workplace violence. He also had an unfounded view that female employees were conspiring to get him, showing that he “may have a problem with women in the workplace”.  All of these factors “did not bode well for the future” were he to be reinstated.

Toronto Transit Commission v Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 113, 2017 CanLII 11071 (ON LA)

Threats of violence, one day after “sensitivity training”, get worker fired for cause. He “may have a problem with women in the workplace, especially women managers”, says arbitrator

“Safety Engineering Letter of Opinion” dealing with OHSA obligations disallowed by court in civil lawsuit

A “Safety Engineering Letter of Opinion”, styled as an “expert report” and covering Occupational Health and Safety Act obligations, was struck and its author was prohibited from testifying at the trial of a civil lawsuit.

The lawsuit arose from an accident involving the towing of a disabled motor vehicle at a scrapyard. Some defendants sought to have the author of the Safety Engineering Letter of Opinion testify about obligations under the OHSA, apparently to show that a co-defendant (the operator of the scrapyard) breached its OHSA obligations and therefore was negligent.

The court stated that the Safety Engineering Letter of Opinion drew “legal conclusions” that were beyond its author’s expertise. There was no “specialized standard of care” for which expert evidence was required. To the extent that the OHSA was relevant in the lawsuit, the parties could direct the court to look at the OHSA’s provisions.

Interestingly, the court stated at paragraph 34:

“[The Safety Engineering Letter of Opinion] raises no other statutory or common law duties which the AIM defendants may have owed to Awada [the injured party]. The OHSA did not apply to Awada while he was on AIM’s weigh scale. He was a third-party. The OHSA applies only to workplace relationships between employers and workers. Any duties owed by the AIM defendants to Awada are governed by the Occupiers Liability Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. O.2 and the common law, not by the OHSA. Both Awada and Wehbe have pleaded the Occupiers Liability Act and the Negligence Act; they have not made any allegations with respect to the OHSA.”

The court noted that the scrapyard operator had produced materials relating to its Emergency Response Procedures, Occupational Health and Safety Policy, Safety Enforcement Policy, and Workplace Responsibilities. The court stated that if there was an allegation that the scrapyard operator was negligent in failing to provide one of its employees with appropriate safety training so as to ensure that he was a “competent person”, those documents can be referred to.  The parties could also ask the trial judge to direct the jurors to the relevant provisions of the OHSA and regulations without any need to consider the Safety Engineering Letter of Opinion.

In the result, the court struck the Safety Engineering Letter of Opinion and prohibited its author from testifying as a witness at trial.

Awada v Glaeser, 2017 ONSC 1094 (CanLII)

 

“Safety Engineering Letter of Opinion” dealing with OHSA obligations disallowed by court in civil lawsuit

“Repeated exposure to supervisor constituted a dangerous situation”, employee arguing

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)

“Repeated exposure to supervisor constituted a dangerous situation”, employee arguing

Industrial safety specialist properly fired for lying on security application

An Ontario judge has decided that Atomic Energy of Canada Limited had just cause to dismiss an industrial safety specialist who misrepresented his employment history in a security application.

AECL operates nuclear research facilities.  It runs security checks that are mandated by the Government of Canada, including obtaining site security clearances for new employees.

AECL received harassment complaints against the employee.  During the investigation, it came out that the employee had been employed at the time AECL hired him. However, during the hiring process, he had indicated on a security questionnaire, and in an e-mail when specifically asked, that he was unemployed.  This was false. AECL fired him.

The employee sued for wrongful dismissal.  In the course of the lawsuit, he offered five different explanations for why he lied to AECL about his employment status.

The court decided that AECL had just cause to dismiss the employee.  AECL was not a “regular employer”, and the pre-employment security checks were “tied to the security of the nation”.  The court stated, “It is in this national security context that the plaintiff misled his employer”.  He had “engaged in a most serious form of dishonesty and, standing on its own, it was irreconcilable with sustaining his employment relationship with AECL.  It is dishonesty that went to the core of the employment relationship and he was terminated with cause.”

Aboagye v Atomic Energy, 2016 ONSC 8165 (CanLII)

 

Industrial safety specialist properly fired for lying on security application

Church defeats lawsuit by volunteer after stepladder accident. Duelling OHS experts’ testimony considered

A volunteer has lost his lawsuit against a church after he fell off a stepladder he was using at the church.

The volunteer was a parishioner at the church who agreed to help with painting.  He claimed that the church’s negligence led to the accident.  He argued, in support of his negligence claim, that the church violated regulations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The court heard expert testimony from two occupational health and safety experts.  The court rejected one expert’s testimony, which had been “denuded of efficacy” on cross-examination. The court accepted the other expert’s testimony. That expert’s opinion was that the volunteer was not a “worker” under the OHSA; that the regulations under the OHSA did not apply; that because of the precautions taken by the church, even if the regulations did apply, the church did not breach them; and that had the church been prosecuted under the OHSA, the charges would have been dismissed.

It was important to the court that the volunteer had not been asked to install trim but took it upon himself to do so, contrary to instructions. He took the “variation in risk” upon himself.  He fell off the stepladder when working on the trim, not while painting.

With respect to the OHS experts’ testimony, the court noted:

“The exercise [of hearing testimony from the OHS experts] was beneficial.  The standards articulated in the OHSA are for the most part an attempt to legislate common sense.  These standards do not apply to volunteers; however, the analysis applied by an inspector in assessing a set of circumstances for the purposes of statutory compliance has similarities to the analysis of compliance with the occupier’s atattory [sic] standard of care and the plaintiff’s assumption of risk.”

The court, in dismissing the volunteer’s lawsuit against the church, concluded:

“The defendant provided a stable ladder, a flat and stable working surface, appropriate ladder use instruction and maintained general compliance observations over many weeks and hours . . .

“Even if it could be said that the tableau presented an objectively unreasonable risk of harm, it was the plaintiff who undertook this task of his own volition contrary to instructions from Jarvis.  He assumed the variation in risk.  The defendant asked for paint volunteers.  The plaintiff was not asked to install trim. This work was beyond Jarvis’ purview . . .”

Baltadjian v The Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation for the Diocese of Alexandria, 2017 ONSC 61 (CanLII)

Church defeats lawsuit by volunteer after stepladder accident. Duelling OHS experts’ testimony considered

Court refuses small-town mayor’s OHSA-based request for injunction prohibiting resident from harassing her

An Ontario judge has rebuffed a small-town mayor’s attempt to use the Occupational Health and Safety Act‘s violence and harassment provisions to obtain a court order stopping a town resident from harassing her.

The mayor claimed that the resident had engaged in workplace harassment and violence, contrary to the OHSA, by sending her numerous “increasingly abrasive” letters and emails in which he made pejorative statements about the mayor and made comments about the “unprofessional conduct” of the town. The resident was apparently “interested in horticulture and town beautification” and had concerns about the management of the town’s affairs.

The court decided that the evidence did not support a finding that workplace violence had occurred.  There was just one allegation that the resident had verbally harassed the mayor during an encounter at the town health unit, where the mayor held a full-time job, in 2014.  Also, the judge stated that it was doubtful that the harassment policy or the OHSA’s harassment provisions were ever intended to apply to persons who are not part of the “workplace”.  The judge decided that in this case, the resident was not a coworker, so the harassment policy did not apply to his actions.

The mayor and the town were therefore not entitled to an “injunction” order from the court prohibiting the resident from communicating with, harassing or publishing any information about the mayor or any other town councillor or employee.

Rainy River v Olsen, 2016 ONSC 8009 (CanLII)

Court refuses small-town mayor’s OHSA-based request for injunction prohibiting resident from harassing her

Psychological harassment arbitration adjourned because employee awarded worker’s compensation benefits

An employee who received worker’s compensation benefits for “psychological injury due to harassment” has had her union harassment grievance, against her employer and supervisor, adjourned.

The employee claimed that her supervisor had harassed her at work by “singling her out, questioning her abilities, criticizing her use of sick leave, threatening her job, refusing to provide her equivalent training provided to others, making serious allegations with respect to her work performance, and accusing her of killing patients, in circumstances in which the employer knew or reasonably ought to have known these events were occurring.”

In her union grievance, she asked the labour arbitrator to remove her supervisor from the workplace, and claimed damages totaling $100,000 from him and her employer.

The arbitrator noted that the Saskatchewan Workers’ Compensation Act provides that “No employer and no worker or worker’s dependant has a right of action against an employer or a worker with respect to an injury to a worker arising out of and in the course of the worker’s employment”.  The Act also provided that the Workers’ Compensation Board had exclusive authority to decide whether, in any particular case, an employee did not have the right to sue the employer in respect of the injury.

The arbitrator, relying on a previous court decision in another case, decided that the WCB, and not the arbitrator, had authority to decide whether the employee could advance the union grievance claiming damages for the psychological injury allegedly caused by harassment. The employer had already applied to the WCB for a decision on that issue. The  arbitrator urged the parties to seek a “timely decision” from the WCB.  The arbitrator adjourned the grievance arbitration until the WCB had decided whether the employee had the right to claim damages at arbitration for her workplace psychological injury.

Saskatoon Regional Health Authority v SEIU West (Erosa-lopez), 2016 CanLII 95946 (SK LA)

Psychological harassment arbitration adjourned because employee awarded worker’s compensation benefits

Work refusal due to second-hand smoke was not properly investigated: arbitrator

A correctional officer with sinusitis and sensitivity to second-hand smoke was entitled to have her work refusal investigated by prison management, an arbitrator has decided.

Although the prison was a non-smoking facility, prisoners would smuggle in contraband cigarettes. There was an “informal arrangement” in place under which the correctional officer could be moved to a different area of the prison if she detected second-hand smoke.

At the time of her work refusal, there was labour unrest at the prison including “mass work refusals”. She refused to work because she “believed that she would be exposed to second-hand smoke”.  She was directed to wait in the lunchroom, where she waited several hours and heard nothing from management.  She, however, made no concerted effort to contact management about the status of her work refusal.

The arbitrator stated:

” . . . I fail to see why the Employer could not have initiated and completed an investigation of CO Gough’s work refusal during the course of her 12-hour shift on September 7, 2014.  It is not clear to me for example why a stage 1 investigation could not have been conducted by the Employer later in the afternoon, rather than the information gathering meeting that was held by DS Large.  CO Gough’s single work refusal was not that complicated and I would have thought that an investigation of it would have been relatively brief and could have been completed before the end of her shift.  In considering all of the circumstances of that day, I find that the Employer’s failure to conduct an investigation of CO Gough’s work refusal on September 7, 2014, was not reasonable and that this failure amounts to a contravention of section 43 (3) of OHSA.”

The arbitrator, however, rejected the union’s argument that the way the employer handled the work refusal constituted harassment.  There was no evidence of bad faith on the part of the employer.

Lastly, the arbitrator decided that the proper remedy was simply “declaratory relief”: a declaration from the arbitrator that management failed to investigate the work refusal and thereby violated the Occupational Health and Safety Act.  However, the correctional officer did not experience any harm that would justify an award of monetary damages.

Ontario Public Service Employees Union (Gough) v. The Crown in Right of Ontario (Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services)

 

Work refusal due to second-hand smoke was not properly investigated: arbitrator

Christmas party incident of sexual harassment leads to dismissal, then reinstatement, of firefighter

A male firefighter who had been “drinking heavily” has won reinstatement to his job after being fired for sexually harassing a female coworker at the fire department’s Christmas party.

The Christmas party was held at a restaurant. The male firefighter, a Captain at a fire station, told the female colleague that he thought she would get pregnant if she transferred to his fire station.

The female colleague later alleged that he had said that she would get raped and become pregnant if she transferred to his fire station.  The arbitrator did not accept this allegation and concluded that the female firefighter had misheard or misunderstood the male firefighters.  The union, however, admitted that if the arbitrator found that the male firefighter had threatened the female firefighter with rape, the City would have just cause to fire him.

The arbitrator stated:

“I accept the Grievor’s evidence that he does not recall using the word [“rape”] and it would not be something that he would say. I acknowledge that the Grievor had a number of drinks that night and was being offensive. But the Grievor’s comments were more directed towards Firefighter A [the female firefighter] being involved socially or sexually with other firefighters, and not directed at Firefighter A being assaulted.

“While it is true that the Grievor clearly mentioned Firefighter A getting pregnant, he was also talking about rumour and gossip surrounding her relationship with other firefighters.”

According to the arbitrator, even if the male firefighter had used the word “rape”, there was clearly no intention of uttering a threat, and the female firefighter testified that she did not believe that the male firefighter was threatening to rape her.  The arbitrator stated, “I believe it is more probable than not that the Grievor only made some offensive comments about Firefighter A’s involvement with Firefighter Hefferman.”

In the end, the arbitrator reinstated the male firefighter with a three-month unpaid suspension, and demoted him to the rank of first class firefighter for a period of time to be agreed by the parties. The arbitrator also ordered that the male firefighter participate in “sensitivity and anti-harassment training”.

Corporation of the City of Brampton v Brampton Professional Firefighter’s Association, Local 1068, 2016 CanLII 87624 (ON LA)

 

Christmas party incident of sexual harassment leads to dismissal, then reinstatement, of firefighter

Subway operators fighting decision to staff trains with only one operator, claiming unsafe

Three Toronto subway operators engaged in a work refusal after the Toronto Transit Commission decided to staff subway trains with only one operator (instead of two).

Their union is now fighting a Ministry of Labour inspector’s decision that the staffing arrangements were “not likely to endanger” and therefore did not justify the work refusal under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The union appealed the MOL inspector’s decision to the Ontario Labour Relations Board, and also grieved the TTC’s one-operator decision under the collective agreement.

The union asked to adjourn the OLRB appeal pending the outcome of the grievance proceedings. The employer opposed the adjournment. The OLRB granted the adjournment due to the grievance proceedings.   Although it was unclear as to whether the issues before the OLRB and the grievance arbitrator were the same, the OLRB stated that if the arbitrator ultimately decided not to hear aspects of the grievance that overlap with the OLRB appeal, the OLRB would relist the OLRB appeal for hearing.

We will continue to monitor the reported decisions in this case and will provide updates on this blog.

Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 113 v Toronto Transit Commission, 2016 CanLII 90788 (ON LRB)

 

Subway operators fighting decision to staff trains with only one operator, claiming unsafe

Labour Board dismisses safety complaint filed 2.5 years after the fact

A worker who filed a safety-reprisal complaint 2.5 years after the events complained about has had his complaint dismissed for delay.

The worker’s complaint related to events that took place in June of 2013.   He admitted that he had not been disciplined in respect of those events but said that he still may be.

The Ontario Labour Relations Board dismissed his complaint due to delay, stating that 2.5 years was an unreasonable delay “by any measure”.  Further, since the employee had not yet been disciplined, his complaint was premature.  In addition, the employee had agreed to his reassignment to a new location so he could not now complain that the reassignment was punishment for raising safety issues.

There is no “limitation period” for filing a complaint with the OLRB claiming reprisal for raising safety issues, but this decision shows that the OLRB will nevertheless throw out complaints that are filed too late.

John Nahirny v Liquor Control Board of Ontario, 2016 CanLII 88256 (ON LRB)

 

Labour Board dismisses safety complaint filed 2.5 years after the fact

Having failed to obtain and review proper operating manual for machine, employer and supervisor convicted under OHSA

An employer and supervisor who failed to obtain an operator’s manual for a rip saw, and therefore failed to follow it, have been found guilty of offences under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The charges resulted from an accident in which an 18 inch long shard or stake of wood was ejected from a rip saw and pierced the arm of a worker who was working nearby.

The employer argued that the machine had proper safety mechanisms to avoid such incidents, and therefore that the accident was not foreseeable.

The court found that the employer had failed to even obtain the applicable operator’s manual for the machine. There was no evidence that any worker or supervisor had read the manual. The manual noted that there was risk to the operator and “third persons” from “kicked back material”. By not reading the manual, the supervisor had not acquainted himself with the inherent risks associated with the rip saw, nor had he taken the necessary steps to address those risks. The employer could have, for instance, erected a barrier to protect workers from kicked back materials. Further, the employer did not have a program in place to check for broken “anti kickback teeth” or fingers, one of which was found to be broken.

The court stated:

“[T]aking all reasonable care also requires more than just arguing that the best equipment had been purchased and installed, to show what steps had been taken to prevent the event that had occurred . . . Moreover, the defendants would have had to respectively take proper care to acquire knowledge about the measures and requirements to properly operate the rip saw machines safely, to ensure that the machine’s protective elements were functioning properly, and to prevent any of the inherent risks outlined by the manufacturer in the 2007 Operating Manual from occurring, including the risks from splinters and material being kicked back by the machine’s saw blades. Being passive and simply relying on the machine’s internal shields and guards would not demonstrate that either defendant had taken all reasonable steps respectively to ensure the safety of the workers at the Alpa Lumber plant working in the vicinity of Rip Saw #1 while it was operating.”

This case demonstrates that employers cannot rely only on safety features built into machines; instead, employers must demonstrate that employees are familiar with potential hazards of machines and take steps to avoid those hazards.

Ontario (Ministry of Labour) v. Alpa Lumber Mills, 2016 ONCJ 675 (CanLII)

Having failed to obtain and review proper operating manual for machine, employer and supervisor convicted under OHSA

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