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No contempt in the face of the “voluminous” British Columbia Occupational Health and Safety Regulation

In the wake of some recent high-profile workplace accidents, 2015 legislative amendments to the Workers Compensation Act were designed to give WorkSafeBC more tools to enforce its mandate.  Among other things, WorkSafeBC can now apply to the Court for an injunction restraining an employer from operating in an industry where it has contravened the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation and where it is likely to continue doing so.  This, and other orders, are generally enforced by way of contempt proceedings.

However, a recent decision of the British Columbia Supreme Court demonstrates that where WorkSafeBC seeks the assistance of the courts, a finding  that parties are in contempt will not necessarily follow.  In late February 2016, the British Columbia Supreme Court declined to find two principals of organizations engaged in asbestos abatement, which had been the subject of as many as 244 orders by WorkSafeBC, in contempt of a 2012 order that they comply with the entire Act and Regulation.

Although written reasons for the decision have not yet been provided, Mr. Justice Macintosh’s decision appears to turn on an assessment that the 2012 order to comply with the entire legislation and associated regulations was too broad, and, in particular, that the Regulation was too “voluminous”.  This decision has many stakeholders in the province wondering about its broader implications, and WorkSafeBC has already indicated that it will appeal once written reasons are released.  According to WorkSafeBC, the basis for its appeal will be that it requires clarity from the Court of Appeal as to whether the size and complexity of a regulation can be a defence to a contempt application.

The history to this case is lengthy, and WorkSafeBC has alleged that the employer has repeatedly violated the Act and Regulations, putting individuals at risk of asbestos exposure.  By 2012, WorkSafeBC sought the assistance of the B.C. Supreme Court and sought an order that the organizations and their principals comply with the entire Act and Regulations.  The order was granted, and in the months following, the principals and some of their companies claimed against WorkSafeBC and others in Provincial Court, Superior Court, and at the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal, alleging, among other things, that WorkSafeBC and certain employees unfairly targeted the principals because of their race, colour, ancestry and place of origin.  And further, that WorkSafeBC and others unduly interfered with the business due to the imposition of a mentoring program, and engaged in malfeasance in public office, discrimination contrary to the Civil Rights Protection Act, slander and defamation, and intentional interference with contractual relations.  The complaint under the Human Rights Code has since been dismissed by the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal.

By late 2013, WorkSafeBC was back at Supreme Court seeking an order that the principals were in contempt of the 2012 order, which was granted in part.  However, further attempts to address alleged non-compliance with the Act and Regulations appear to have been stymied by the February 2016 decision, and the reasons for this most recent decision in the ongoing dispute, and WorkSafeBC’ s expected appeal, are therefore highly anticipated.

WorkSafeBC’ s comments on the decision can be found here: http://www.worksafebc.com/news_room/news_releases/2016/new_16_03_16.asp?_ga=1.237658628.562962873.1448414730 and here: http://www.worksafebc.com/news_room/news_releases/2016/new_16_03_02.asp

The author thanks Amelie Boultbee, articling student with Dentons in Vancouver, for her assistance with this article.

No contempt in the face of the “voluminous” British Columbia Occupational Health and Safety Regulation

Get Your jab! – British Columbia Government Imposes Flu Vaccination Requirement for Health Workers

In hopes of driving up immunization rates among BC health care workers, the Government of British Columbia is imposing strict flu-season requirements on workers who come into contact with patients at publicly-funded health care facilities or in the community. Starting with the upcoming flu season, applicable health care workers (including health-authority staff, physicians and residents, volunteers, students, contractors and vendors) will be required to either obtain a seasonal influenza vaccine or to generally don a mask at all times during the flu season.

B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall, who recommended these measures to the Provincial Government, wrote that less than 50 percent of health care workers are immunized against influenza each year, despite being in contact with high risk populations such as seniors, pregnant women, young children, and the immuno-compromised. Citing evidence from long-term care facilities that health care worker vaccinations results in diminished illness and fewer deaths each flu season, the physician argued that “[g]etting the flu shot should be considered standard patient safety practice for all health-care workers who come into contact with patients – as important as following effective hand hygiene practices, staying home when ill or wearing a mask in the operating room.” British Columbia will be the first jurisdiction in Canada to implement such a policy.

According to media outlets, the unions representing health care workers are generally supportive of vaccinations, although the British Columbia Nurses Union has said it will not yet formally respond to the directive and has rather referred to its October 2011 Press Release on the issue where it stated that vaccinations should be promoted through education, rather than through a punitive approach by the employer.

A Government of British Columbia “Backgrounder”, cites influenza as causing the most deaths among vaccine-preventable diseases.

According to Dr. Kendall, in U.S. jurisdictions where similar requirements have been imposed, health care worker immunizations levels have reached approximately 95 percent.

The Government’s Press Release, Dr. Kendall’s Opinion Editorial and the BCNU Press Release on Influenza vaccinations can be accessed at:

http://www.gov.bc.ca/health/

http://www.newsroom.gov.bc.ca/ministries/health/factsheets/opinion-editorial-flu-shots-save-lives-protect-patients.html

https://www.bcnu.org/News/news.aspx?page=Bulletins_Oct 21, 2011

Get Your jab! – British Columbia Government Imposes Flu Vaccination Requirement for Health Workers

Bill 14 Receives Royal Assent: British Columbia Employees To Receive Workers’ Compensation for Bullying and Harassment

Bill 14, or the Workers’ Compensation Amendment Act, 2011 received Royal Assent on May 31, 2012. Among other things, the Act expressly addresses bullying and harassment, and amends section 5.1 of the Workers’ Compensation Act. Section 5.1 currently requires that, in order to receive workers compensation benefits for a mental disorder, the mental disorder must have been an acute reaction to an event in the workplace. Come July 1, 2012, an employee will have a compensable claim for mental stress resulting from: traumatic events in the workplace; a significant work-related stressor; or a cumulative series of significant work-related stressors.

WorkSafeBC, the entity tasked with the administration and implementation of the Workers’ Compensation Act, must bring its Policies (which are applied by the Officers of the Workers’ Compensation Board in the course of adjudicating claims) into line with these changes to Section 5.1.

To this end, WorkSafeBC’s Policy and Regulation Division has developed a draft Policy which addresses the changes to the way claims of mental disorder are adjudicated. The Discussion Paper accompanying the draft Policy identifies the challenges of adjudicating claims of gradual onset stress, and notes the lack of experience with such claims at the Workers’ Compensation Board. However, the Policy, among other things, attempts to put some limits on the stress claims that may be advanced by employees by requiring that the stressor complained of must exceed the intensity or duration expected of the normal pressures associated with the workplace, and excludes interpersonal conflicts to the extent those conflicts do not include threatening or abusive behaviour such as bullying or harassment. Regardless however, it appears that Officers of the Board will retain a fair bit of discretion as to what stressors will, and will not, be accepted in the context of the new Section 5.1 and Policy, and employers can expect that the bounds of this discretion will be the subject of challenge at at least the Board and the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Tribunal.

In contrast to British Columbia’s new and broad approach to claims of mental disorder, Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Manitoba have all implemented legislation which limits an employee’s ability to claim compensation for gradual onset stress.

WorkSafeBC estimates that the acceptance of claims under the new Section 5.1 will result in the acceptance of an additional 300 wage-loss claims annually, with an estimated cost impact of $18 to $20 million dollars.

WorkSafeBC is currently accepting stakeholder feedback on the proposed new Policy until June 15, 2012. The Discussion Paper and draft Policy can be accessed at: http://www.worksafebc.com/regulation_and_policy/policy_consultation/assets/pdf/Bill14/Bill14MentalDisorder.pdf

 

Bill 14 Receives Royal Assent: British Columbia Employees To Receive Workers’ Compensation for Bullying and Harassment

British Columbia says bulling and harassment “are not acceptable at any level” with Bill 14

The British Columbia legislature recently tabled amendments to Bill 14—the WORKERS COMPENSATION AMENDMENT ACT, 2011—to address bullying and harassment in the workplace. The amendments to Bill 14, among other things, expand workers’ compensation to expressly address mental disorders caused by significant work-related stressors such as bullying and harassment. In addition, WorkSafeBC, the entity tasked with the administration of the Workers’ Compensation Act, R.S.B.C. 1996 c. 492, will, in consultation with stakeholders, be amending and updating its existing workplace violence policies and procedures to deal specifically with claims of bullying and harassment. It is anticipated that these amendments will include a requirement for employers to implement formal prevention plans. Bill 14 had its second reading in the legislature on May 3 and is not yet law.

British Columbia says bulling and harassment “are not acceptable at any level” with Bill 14