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B.C.’s Anti-Bullying and Harassment Law Now in Effect

As we stated in blog posts on May 10th and June 13th, 2012, the B.C. Workers Compensation Amendment Act, 2011 – also known as Bill 14 – expands workers’ compensation benefits to mental disorders caused by significant workplace stressors. These stressors include a single traumatic event or cumulative stressors over time, such as workplace bullying and harassment.

On July 1, 2012, the Bill came into effect and is now law. WorkSafe BC will be issuing policies sometime this Fall which will set out employers’ obligations with respect to formal prevention plans. It is also anticipated that at that time, WorkSafe BC will clarify certain aspects of the legislation, specifically what type of conduct constitutes “bullying” and “harassment”. Stay tuned for further details this coming Fall.

B.C.’s Anti-Bullying and Harassment Law Now in Effect

“Preferred Practices” for Employers of Drivers Introduced Online by WorkSafe BC

Last week, WorkSafe BC and the BCAA Safety Foundation launched a website called RoadSafetyAtWork.ca as on on-line toolkit for employers of workers who are required to drive as part of their job duties.  The website contains “British Columbia’s Preferred Practices for Occupational Road Safety” which includes instructions to employers to help ensure the safety of their workers while on the road.  The Preferred Practices link sets out a 5-step plan for employers:

1. Get management to commit to safety;

2. Conduct a status review;

3. Identify risks and hazards;

4. Develop strategies; and

5. Plan for Action

Although these 5 steps sound fairly vague and general, the website provides concrete and specific ways of implementing the plan.  For example, “getting management to commit” includes guidelines around data management, communications, organizational structures, road safety policy and procedures, and even management style. Notably, the practices apply not only to employers that are in the business of driving (such as transportation) but any employer that requires any of its employees to use his or her own vehicle for business persons.

Although the website is designed as a resource for employer, it may be that WorkSafe will soon use the “preferred” practices as the measure to assess an employer’s compliance and due diligence under the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations.  Employers should therefore measure their current road safety practices against these new WorkSafe preferred practices.

“Preferred Practices” for Employers of Drivers Introduced Online by WorkSafe BC

WorkSafe BC Introduces Joint Health and Safety Committee Policy

WorkSafe BC (the Province’s occupational health and safety regulator) recently introduced policy guidelines which describe an employers’ responsibilities over  its internal joint health and safety committee. The guidelines also set out the factors that WorkSafe may take into account when deciding whether when an employer is exempt from the joint committee requirements set out under the Workers Compensation Act.

The Act requires that every employee establish and maintain a joint committee in each workplace with 20 or more employees. The Act allows the Board to vary  this requirement where an employer has more than one workplace. Unfortunately, the Act does not set out the factors that the Board must or could consider when deciding whether a variation should be made. The Act also does not spell out the employer’s duties or responsibilities with respect to the joint committee and the exercise of their duties in ensuring a safe workplace.

The new guidelines state that the employer must ensure that:

  • the joint committee is meeting its obligations under the Act in actively identifying potential health and safety concerns;
  • the joint committee has established rules and procedures for its performance of its duties and functions; and
  • the joint committee is meeting at least once per month.

The message from WorkSafe is that employers must not only ensure that joint committees are created and maintained, they must vigilantly monitor their joint committees activities and ensure they are carrying out their statutorily required duties.

With respect to a variation of structure, an employer may wish to vary the requirement where, for example, it has a number of workplaces but prefers to have one joint committee only, or where the employer has different workforces with different health and safety issues across a number of workplaces. The guidelines set out the requirements for  a variation application, including injury statistics and hazard ratings and the employer’s rationale for its new proposed structure. The guidelines spell out the factors that the Board must consider in granting the variance, which include: the employer’s overall health and safety program and safety history; the nature or makeup of the workplace; the relationship between workers at various workplaces; and the practicality of communications between workers and members of the joint committee.

WorkSafe BC is recognizing that a “one size fits all” approach is not the best way to ensure compliance with the Act, particularly in today’s complex and multi-faceted workplaces. The guidelines give employers flexibility to tailor their  joint committee structures in ways that best meet their needs and the needs of their workers.

WorkSafe BC Introduces Joint Health and Safety Committee Policy

WorkSafe BC Changing Late-Night Retail Rules

WorkSafe BC (the province’s occupational health and safety regulator) has proposed amendments to BC’s “gas -and-dash” laws. Currently retailers in BC must assign more than one employee to work any shift from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m., or, ensure that any single worker is behind locked doors or other physical barrier. The new law, which will come into effect April 15, 2012, will allow a retail worker to work on his or her own between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. provided that all of the following controls are instituted:

  • a time lock safe that can’t be opened during late night hours, and signage advising the public of this;
  • cash and lottery tickets not reasonable necessary to operate during late night hours are stored in the time lock safe, and signage advising the public of this;
  • video surveillance monitoring;
  • limited access to the interior of the premises;
  • good visibility in and out of the premises; and
  • personal emergency transmitters for the worker, who must be at least 19 years of age, that are monitored by the employer or a designated  third party.

The current law was dubbed the “gas-and-dash” law as it was introduced in 2008 after lobbying by the parents of a late-night gas attendant who was dragged to his death by a vehicle after he tried to prevent the driver from fleeing before paying.

WorkSafe BC contends that the new law will safeguard late-night workers while offering a solution to retailers whose businesses are unsustainable under the other two options.

WorkSafe BC Changing Late-Night Retail Rules

Stress Claims Soon to be Accepted in British Columbia

On Thursday last week, the B.C. government announced that it will amend the B.C. Workers Compensation Act to extend coverage for mental stress claims. Employees who suffer from a mental stress condition arising out of the workplace will now be eligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits. Currently only those who suffer from an “acute reaction to a sudden and traumatic event” are eligible. The change will now benefit those who suffer mental stress as a result of on-going or cumulative events in the workplace.

This change will bring B.C. in line with the law in other provinces, including Quebec, Saskatchewan and Alberta, and the three northern territories.

Several studies have found that stress is the primary reason for absenteeism from the workplace. Many employees claim that that stress is caused by their work environment: unmanageable workloads, overly-demanding superiors, or tense relations between co-workers. Undoubtedly this amendment will significantly increase the number of workers’ compensation claims that are made . In fact, the Labour Minister has estimated that WorkSafe BC’s yearly costs will increase between $10 million and $18 million.

The B.C. government has yet to announce when the proposed new legislation will be tabled, or what the amendment will look like. Stay tuned …

Stress Claims Soon to be Accepted in British Columbia