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Worker awarded WSIB benefits after health and safety officer “grabbed him and threw him to the ground”

In an unusual case, a construction site superintendent has won entitlement to workers compensation benefits after persuading an appeals tribunal that he was assaulted by his employer’s health and safety officer and was not an active participant in the altercation.

The worker testified that on the day in question, as he entered a construction site office he was asked by the health and safety officer why he had stopped trades people from throwing garbage from the third floor.  He replied that he had been asked by the employer to move the garbage container to another location, at which time the health and safety officer said he had no authority to do that and got so upset that he grabbed him and threw him to the ground. The worker sought treatment and was diagnosed with ligament strain.  The health and safety officer was dismissed shortly thereafter.

The worker applied for WSIB benefits, but the employer opposed the request. The WSIB assigned an investigator who found that the worker was an active participant in the altercation.  The WSIB case manager denied him entitlement to WSIB benefits.

The employer did not participate in the worker’s appeal to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal. The WSIAT looked at earlier statements given by the worker, the health and safety officer and the employer.  The WSIAT determined that the worker was not the aggressor, and that the health and safety officer’s statement was “less than credible” because he did not even acknowledge that he had grabbed the worker and thrown him to the ground.  The fact that the worker pushed the health and safety officer away did not make him a participant in a fight; instead, it was a normal act of self-defence.

Interestingly, the WSIAT noted that there was no evidence that the worker had a history of being physically violent, while there was evidence that the health and safety officer was involved in at least one prior physical altercation.

WSIAT Decision No. 2140/14 (2014 ONWSIAT 2760)

Worker awarded WSIB benefits after health and safety officer “grabbed him and threw him to the ground”

Injured Worker’s Act was Not Foreseeable: OHSA Charges Against Employer Dismissed

Recently, an Ontario court dismissed Occupational Health and Safety Act charges against an employer where the injured worker’s unexpected and unauthorized act led to his injury.

The worker used an overhead crane to rotate a large spindle that weighed about 10,000 pounds.  He threaded a piece of rebar through one of the holes on the spindle and attached hooks for the overhead crane to each end of the rebar.  Tragically, the spindle fell off its stand and onto his foot, which had to be amputated.

The Ministry of Labour charged the employer with failing to ensure that the spindle was moved safely and failing to properly train the injured worker.

The court concluded that the injured worker’s supervisor had not instructed him to rotate the spindle.  The court also concluded that a reasonable employer could not have foreseen that the injured worker would rotate the spindle on his own and do it in the manner that he did, because: there was no evidence that a junior employee had ever previously tried to move a large piece of equipment like the spindle before; there was an unwritten protocol in place which the injured worker acknowledged that he understood; the way in which the worker rotated the spindle was contrary to his training; and he attempted to rotate the spindle on his own even though that work had always been done by material handlers or supervisors.  The injured worker conceded that he had failed to follow his training.

Further, the employer had provided an orientation session and overhead crane training to the injured worker.

Interestingly, the court also noted that the Ministry of Labour had not issued a stop work order requiring the employer to stop rotating spindles, suggesting that the inspector must have concluded that the employer’s procedure was adequate for the protection of workers.

In conclusion, the court held that the employer had established due diligence: it took every reasonable precaution in the circumstances, and could not have anticipated that the injured worker would rotate the spindle.  The OHSA charges were dismissed.

R. v. ABS Machining Inc., 2015 ONCJ 213 (CanLII)

Injured Worker’s Act was Not Foreseeable: OHSA Charges Against Employer Dismissed

Company owner convicted, fined under OHSA for failing to co-operate with MOL inspector

A widely-reported fire at a Kingston construction site that required the evacuation of a crane operator by helicopter, has resulted in fines against the owner of the company that supplied the crane operator.

To avoid the heat from the fire, the crane operator was forced to crawl out on the boom of the crane, which was about 100 metres in the air. A military helicopter rescued him.

Shortly after the incident, a Ministry of Labour inspector contacted the company owner to request crane records.  The owner provided some but not all of the information. The MOL inspector attempted to interview the owner but was unable to reach him by telephone or at his residence.

The Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act provides, in section 62, that no person shall hinder or obstruct an inspector; every person shall co-operate in respect of an inspector’s investigation; and no person shall provide false information to an inspector or refuse to provide information required by an inspector.

The company owner was charged with and convicted of the Occupational Health and Safety Act offences of (1) knowingly furnishing an inspector with false information or neglecting or refusing to furnish information required by an inspector, and (2) failing to furnish all necessary means in the person’s power to facilitate any entry, search, inspection, investigation, examination, testing or inquiry by an inspector. He was personally fined $19,000.00.  His company was also found guilty of failing to comply with a requirement of an inspector, and was fined $8,000.00.

This case illustrates the broad powers of Ministry of Labour inspectors and the consequences of interfering with an inspector’s investigation.

The Ministry of Labour’s press release may be read here.

Company owner convicted, fined under OHSA for failing to co-operate with MOL inspector

“Classic bullying” in company washroom, “which is the traditional hang out of bullies”, lands employee three-day suspension

A 6’2′, 300-lb employee’s hostile, intimidating comment to a smaller co-worker in the company washroom was just cause for a three-day suspension, an arbitrator has decided.

The evidence was that the suspended employee said, “I am your worst nightmare” to the co-worker as he stood over him in a threatening way.  The co-worker was 5’8″ tall and did not have the use of his left arm.

Although the union argued that the comment was said “in a joking manner”, the arbitrator disagreed. She held that the line, “I am your worst nightmare” meant “I am someone you should be afraid of”.  It was “classic bullying” which took place in the washroom “which is the traditional hang out of bullies”.  The arbitrator found that the employee had perceived that his co-worker was anxious and tried to intimidate him.

The arbitrator stated:

“The grievor’s comment was not specifically a threat of physical harm but it was a violation of the company’s Workplace Violence Policy because it was inappropriate behaviour that could insinuate violence and because it was hostile language that would be intimidating to a reasonable person. The conduct was just cause for some discipline. It was not a first offence because the grievor received a one day suspension a few months before for making a threatening comment. The three day suspension he received was, therefore, in accordance with the principles of progressive discipline.”

The decision is part of a growing line of post-Bill 168 cases in which arbitrators have shown decreasing tolerance for workplace violence and harassment.  Even one threatening comment can result in discipline.

Workers United Canada Council v Winners Merchants International, 2015 CanLII 21612 (ON LA)

“Classic bullying” in company washroom, “which is the traditional hang out of bullies”, lands employee three-day suspension

Even “inspecting” equipment is “working on it”: employer guilty of OHSA charge where employees had not even started maintenance work

A maintenance electrician had “worked on” a stuck shipping door when he simply “inspected” it, even though he had not actually performed maintenance on it, a court has ruled.  He was injured when the door fell on him.  The employer was found guilty of failing to ensure that the door was “blocked” before employees worked on it.

The maintenance employee testified that he “took a look at the controller [for the door] just to make sure, looked in to make sure that the P-L-C was powered up”.  He agreed that he was “merely inspecting, trying to determine what the problem was.”

The trial justice found that “some level of work” took place, and therefore that the employer was guilty of the offence of failing to ensure that the shipping door was blocked before it was “adjusted, repaired, or [had] work performed on it”, contrary to the Industrial Establishments regulation under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. 

The appeal judge agreed and upheld the conviction.  He stated that the OHSA did not require that a “minimum or threshold amount of work be performed” before the requirements of the OHSA are triggered.  The maintenance employee’s checks of the electrical system for the door amounted to “some work” and therefore the obligation to “block” the door had been triggered.

Ontario (Ministry of Labour) v. Maple Lodge Farms, 2015 ONCJ 172 (CanLII)

 

Even “inspecting” equipment is “working on it”: employer guilty of OHSA charge where employees had not even started maintenance work

Company that “met or exceeded many industry standards in its operations” still found guilty of OHSA charges

Exceeding industry standards does not, on its own, protect employers from health and safety convictions or fines, a recent court decision shows.

A roofing company was charged with two offences under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act. The charges alleged a failure to ensure that roofing workers were adequately protected by a guardrail system that met the requirements of the Construction Projects regulation under the OHSA.  A worker fell off a roof after he had removed both the middle and upper parts of a guardrail system to dump garbage, without tying-off. His sleeve caught on a motorized buggy he was using to transport waste on the roof; both he and the buggy went over the edge.

The court found that the guardrail system was routinely opened up by removing the middle rail and possibly also the top rail.  The original wooden middle rail had been replaced with an iron bar that was not securely fastened, at the time of the accident, to the guardrail system.  The presence of the removable iron bar violated the regulation.  Also, there was no clear process in place for the garbage disposal at the time of the accident.

The court noted that the company had “generally met or exceeded many industry standards in its operations”, and had clear internal policies, weekly production meetings to discuss safety topics, and “Toolbox Talks”.  It also hired outside consultants to teach various health and safety courses and to perform spot audits of safety.  There was evidence that workers who failed to use safety equipment were sent home without pay and given retraining.  The company had even fired long-term employees who repeatedly violated safety rules.

However, none of that was enough to establish the “due diligence” defence, because the company had not taken “all reasonable steps to prevent this accident”.

This case shows that an excellent safety program may not be enough to defeat OHSA charges if the employer failed to properly address even one particular hazard.

Ontario (Ministry of Labour) v. Semple Gooder Roofing Corporation, 2015 ONCJ 183 (CanLII)

Company that “met or exceeded many industry standards in its operations” still found guilty of OHSA charges

Manager was not a “competent person” to conduct harassment / violence investigation under Canada Labour Code: Court

The Federal Court has held that a manager was not a “competent person” to conduct a workplace harassment investigation under the Canada Labour Code because the employee who filed the complaint had not agreed that the manager was an “impartial party”.

In December 2011, an employee of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency filed a written complaint alleging “miscommunication, favouritism, humiliation, unfair treatment and a lack of respect” on the part of his supervisor.

The CFIA assigned a manager to undertake a “fact-finding” review of the concerns raised in the complaint.  The manager conducted internal investigations and concluded that there were communication issues and unresolved tension, but no evidence of harassment.

The employee contacted a federal Health and Safety Officer, alleging that the manager was not sufficiently impartial to conduct an investigation. The HSO issued a Direction requiring the CFIA to appoint an impartial person to investigate the complaint pursuant to the Canada Labour Code.  The CFIA appealed that direction to an Appeals Officer of the Occupational Health and Safety Tribunal of Canada (who sided with the CFIA), and the employee then appealed to the Federal Court.

The court noted that section 20.9 of Part XX to the Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations under the Canada Labour Code sets out procedural obligations of an employer if it receives a complaint of “workplace violence”.  The court held that “harassment may constitute workplace violence, depending on the circumstances”.  The court stated that the alleged harassment in this case could constitute “workplace violence” if after a proper investigation by a competent person it is determined that the harassment could reasonably be expected to cause harm or illness to the employee.  (Workplace Violence is defined in that Regulation as, “any action, conduct, threat or gesture of a person towards an employee in their work place that can reasonably be expected to cause harm, injury or illness to that employee.”

The court noted that under the workplace violence provisions of the Regulation, a person is a “competent person” to conduct a workplace violence investigation if he or she is “impartial and is seen by the parties to be impartial” and has the necessary knowledge, training and experience.

In this case, the employee who filed the complaint did not agree that the manager was impartial.  The court stated:

“What the employer did here was have the Regional Director, Mr. Schmidt, not only institute a pre-screening and fact finding exercise to determine the nature of the complaint and attempt to facilitate mediation, but also conduct a full investigation of the complaint, acting as a competent person under section 20.9(3). In his report, Mr. Schmidt mentions ‘investigation’ eight times and refers to his review of the evidence before him. He was not competent to do so, given there was no agreement that he was an impartial party by the employee and therefore had no authority to conduct any investigation, once the allegation of work place violence was unresolved at the pre-screening stage and still a live issue between the parties.”

As such, the manager’s investigation was essentially unusable, and the court referred the matter back to the Appeals Officer for re-determination of the issues in accordance with the court’s decision.

This decision shows the importance of employers – at least federally-regulated employers who are subject to the Canada Labour Code - of strictly complying with the workplace violence and harassment procedures set out in legislation or regulations.

Public Service Alliance of Canada v. Canada (Attorney General), 2014 FC 1066 (CanLII)

Manager was not a “competent person” to conduct harassment / violence investigation under Canada Labour Code: Court

Aggravated damages awarded under OHSA for retaliatory firing

An employer has been ordered to pay aggravated damages – in addition to lost wages – after firing an employee in retaliation for raising safety issues.

The employee worked at a hair salon. She suffered an injury at work as a result of unsafe working conditions.  The employer did not take any steps to address the safety issues, nor did it report the injury to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.

After the employee filed a complaint with the Ministry of Labour, the employer dismissed her. She then filed a safety-reprisal complaint with the Ontario Labour Relations Board. The employer did not attend the hearing at the OLRB.

The OLRB found that she was dismissed in retaliation for raising safety concerns. It awarded her lost wages.  Interestingly, the OLRB also awarded her aggravated damages for mental distress, stating that such damages are appropriate where the employer violates a “statutory prohibition”.

The OLRB stated:

“Here the evidence is clear that the circumstances of the Complainant’s dismissal were insensitive, demeaning and humiliating. Mr. Vasiliades callously disregarded her workplace injury, failing to report it to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board and pressured her to continue working despite her protestations of the seriousness of her injury. The Complainant was summarily dismissed while on sick leave solely for acting in accordance with the statutory mandate when she reported the hazardous working condition and her injury to the Ministry; she was threatened with arrest were she to set foot on the premises of Pro-Hairlines; she was denied her final paycheque; she was denied the opportunity to collect EI by the Employer’s bogus claim that she was self-employed and its refusal, in total disregard of federal legislation, to issue an ROE to which she was entitled. The Complainant was no longer self-sufficient as a direct result of the Employer’s conduct and suffered loss of self-esteem as she was forced to rely on her father for the basic necessities of food and shelter. Such economic dependence was humiliating for the Complainant.  The psychological and mental distress she suffered was compounded by the lingering physical effects of the serious electrical shock she had sustained due to the hazardous conditions at the workplace for which the Employer was responsible. The Complainant’s sense of loss of dignity and self-respect can be laid directly at the feet of the Employer, acting through Mr. Vasiliades who throughout the dismissal process acted in a manner that was unfair and in bad faith, being both untruthful, misleading and unduly insensitive.”

The OLRB ordered the employer to pay the employee $16,659.00 as damages for lost wages, and $7,500.00 as aggravated damages, for a total of $24,159.00.

Brenda Bastien v 817775 Ontario Limited (Pro-Hairlines), 2014 CanLII 65582 (ON LRB).

Aggravated damages awarded under OHSA for retaliatory firing

OHSA does not protect against retaliation for merely sustaining injury: OLRB

The Occupational Health and Safety Act may protect employees against retaliation for asserting their rights under that Act, but not for merely sustaining an injury, the Ontario Labour Relations Board has decided.

An employee filed a complaint under section 50 of the OHSA. She asserted that by not giving her the job of Manager of Corporate Learning, the employer retaliated against her because she sustained an injury, and that that retaliation violated the OHSA.

The OLRB stated that even if it were true that the employer retaliated against her for sustaining a workplace injury, “sustaining an injury is not an assertion of a right under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, and hence there is no basis for a reprisal complaint.

Section 50 of the OHSA provides that an employer must not dismiss, discipline, penalize or intimidate or coerce a worker “because the worker has acted in compliance with this Act or the regulations or an order made thereunder, has sought the enforcement of this Act or the regulations or has given evidence in a proceeding in respect of the enforcement of this Act or the regulations or in an inquest under the Coroners Act.”

None of those circumstances were present in this case.  As such, the OLRB dismissed the retaliation complaint.

Krupp v UNIFOR, Local 229, 2015 CanLII 2111 (ON LRB)

 

OHSA does not protect against retaliation for merely sustaining injury: OLRB

No punches thrown, but employee properly dismissed for yelling, swearing and abusive conduct

An employee need not physically assault a co-worker in order to be dismissed for workplace violence, an arbitrator’s decision shows.

The employer had 8 “Golden Rules” of workplace health, safety and environmental standards.  The employee had signed a document that said he understood that failure to comply with the Golden Rules and all other posted plant safety rules “may result in disciplinary action up to and including termination”.

Less than 3 months later, the employee got into an altercation with a co-worker.  There was yelling, swearing and abusive language.  A third employee intervened to separate the two employees when it looked like they were about to hit each other.

The employer’s investigation found that the employee had called the other employee, who was said to have a heavy build, a “fatass” and made a derogatory reference to the other employee’s sexual orientation.  When the third employee tried to break up the altercation, the employee continued to argue with and antagonize the other employee.  Also, both men had removed their hard hats, indicating that they were preparing to hit each other with their fists.

The union argued that this incident of fighting and violence was at the “low end” of the spectrum.  The union noted that there was no physical contact between the fighting employees; “it was all words”.  Also, there were no physical injuries.

The arbitrator disagreed, finding that the employee chose to use words that directly attacked the other employee’s physical appearance and his sexual orientation.  This was “over and above both employees’ use of more traditional, garden-variety, profanities”.  Further, “particularly hurtful comments directed at an individual’s appearance can, even in the absence of physical violence, warrant termination of employment”.  Further, the employee continued to “egg on” the other employee after the third employee tried to break up the altercation.  Lastly, the plant operated around the clock and the employer required all employees, who had been trained on its workplace violence policy, to exercise some degree of self-restraint.  The employee had, instead, tried to escalate to physical violence and likely would have done so if the third employee had not intervened.

The employee had only 15 months of service, had received extensive training on the employer’s workplace violence policy and harassment policy, and had been given a copy of the employer’s “Golden Rules”. He showed very little insight into how his own behaviour was a contributing factor.  He did not see himself as accountable for his own actions.  He did not apologize until the day of the hearing.

The arbitrator upheld the dismissal.

Unifor Local 80-0 v Certainteed Insulation Canada, 2015 CanLII 600 (ON LA)

No punches thrown, but employee properly dismissed for yelling, swearing and abusive conduct

OHSA charges were adequately particularized, court finds: disclosure showed violations Crown intended to prove

A judge has rejected an employer’s argument that Occupational Health and Safety Act charges against it were unclear and that the Crown was required to provide further “particulars” of the charges so the employer could defend itself after an employee was electrocuted.

“Particulars” are details, provided in addition to the charges themselves, that help the defendant understand what it is accused of doing or failing to do.

There were two charges against the employer, a company that provided commercial and residential electrical services: (1) a failure to provide adequate training, and (2) a failure to ensure that an electrical installation was serviced, repaired or dismantled in accordance with the latest version of CSA standard, “CSA C22.1, ‘Canadian Electrical Code Part 1′, Safety Standard for Electrical Installations”.

The company argued that it required particulars of the 2 charges so that it could know what it “did or did not do that it should have done” to prevent the employee’s death.

The court noted that the effect of ordering that the Crown provide further particulars is that the Crown must prove the offence, as particularized, beyond a reasonable doubt.

The court ultimately decided that the disclosure provided to the employer indicated what witnesses are expected to say happened. The disclosure suggested that the Crown would seek to prove that the company had no supervisors on site with the worker. The disclosure included an expert’s report that concluded that the electrical work being done by the worker was not being performed in a safe manner as set out in the CSA standard.

The court decided that an order for particulars was unnecessary and would unreasonably restrict the Crown’s case.  Further, the judge said, “I fail to see how Longard does not know the case it is facing”.

R. v. R.D. Longard Services Ltd., 2014 NSPC 100 (CanLII)

OHSA charges were adequately particularized, court finds: disclosure showed violations Crown intended to prove

Mere posting of standard operating procedure was not enough: OLRB refuses to suspend MOL inspector’s training order

Employers often post new procedures in the workplace without providing formal training.  A recent decision of the Ontario Labour Relations Board suggests that for some work procedures, posting is not enough; rather, training is required.

After a concern was expressed, a transit company updated its Standard Operating Procedure on how to handle a complete brake system pressure loss.  A Ministry of Labour inspector asked whether all affected employees have been trained on the updated procedure, which had been posted on information boards and video screens.  The employer’s response was that affected employees should read the information boards and video screens.

The inspector was apparently concerned that the employer could not prove that all affected employees were aware of the new procedure or how it was to be applied.  The inspector ordered the employer to “provide instruction and training” on “the hazards of vehicular traffic in the event of a complete brake system pressure loss in a bus”.

The employer appealed the order and argued that there was no suggestion that the employees did not understand the updated procedure or that they were not aware of it. As such, said the employer, the inspector’s order should be suspended pending the appeal.

The Ontario Labour Relations Board held that the failure to train or instruct on the updated procedure could endanger the safety of employees.  Further, the training did not put an onerous burden on the employee.  As such, the mere posting of the procedure was not enough, and the MOL inspector’s training order was not suspended.

London Transit Commission v Amalgamated Transit Union, 2014 CanLII 68423 (ON LRB)

Mere posting of standard operating procedure was not enough: OLRB refuses to suspend MOL inspector’s training order

Run over by shoplifter in parking lot, retail employee may sue employer and supervisor despite having WSIB coverage

A retail employee who helped pursue a shoplifter, in violation of the employer’s workplace violence policy, was not entitled to WSIB benefits and could sue the employer and a supervisor in the courts for her injury.

The employee was standing outside the grocery store, where she worked, on her break. The supervisor, who had just finished his shift, followed a suspected shoplifter to his van.  The employee also followed.  The supervisor confronted the shoplifter who accelerated away and ran over the employee with both his front and rear driver-side wheels.  The employee was hospitalized and had not yet returned to work.

The employee sued the employer and the supervisor seeking damages.  The employer applied to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal for a declaration that the employee’s right to sue was taken away by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act because she had Workplace Safety and Insurance Board coverage.

The WSIAT held that the employee’s injury did not arise out of and in the course of her employment.  It was important that the employee, in participating in the confrontation of the shoplifter, had violated both the employer’s “Non-Pursuit Policy” and Workplace Violence Policy which prohibited most employees from pursuing shoplifters.  Further, she was on a break at the time of the incident.  Pursuing shoplifters was not one of her duties and was not even incidental to her duties.  Her pursuit of the shoplifter was of no benefit to the employer because it violated company policy and made her unavailable to return to her regular duties.  For similar reasons – plus the fact that he had finished his shift - the supervisor was found not to be in the course of his employment at the time of the accident.

As such, the employee was entitled to sue both the employer and the supervisor in the courts.

It is interesting to note that the employee’s own misconduct (violating the company’s non-pursuit policy) was one of the factors that took her “out of the course of” her employment and permitted her to sue the employer instead of claiming WSIB benefits.

Guizzo v. Metro Ontario Inc., 2014 ONWSIAT 2526

Run over by shoplifter in parking lot, retail employee may sue employer and supervisor despite having WSIB coverage

Having an active joint health and safety committee can help employers defend against OHSA charges, court decision suggests

An Ontario court has dismissed charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act after two incidents which the joint health and safety committee did not identify as posing a “high priority” safety concern.

The charges arose from two incidents on an assembly line at Magna Seating Inc. in which workers were struck by a partly-manufactured vehicle seat that had fallen forward from an upright position, “which is not unlike when someone releases the lever on a seat in an automobile and the seat falls forward due to the tension of the seat’s springs.”

The two charges were: failing to ensure that things were transported so that they would not tip, collapse or fall; and failing to ensure that a machine (the conveyor that transported the seats) was guarded.

The court noted that almost two million seats had been built on the assembly line with only two documented occasions in which a seat had fallen forward. In one incident, a worker’s lip had been cut; she required only a Band-Aid.  In the second incident, the seat had struck a worker in the chest; she was taken to the hospital but was released two hours later with a prescription for painkillers.

The Justice of the Peace noted that  the Joint Health and Safety Committee, comprised of management and workers, were aware of the two incidents but had not considered the seat falling forward issue to be of high priority; also, the possibility of guarding being implemented was still being investigated by the joint health and safety committee.

Ultimately, the charges were dismissed because the Justice of the Peace decided that the conveyor was not a “machine” within the meaning of that term in the regulation, and Magna had taken all reasonable care to ensure that workers were not injured from seats falling forward.

The case shows that having a well-functioning and active joint health and safety committee can actually help an employer defend against Occupational Health and Safety Act charges. If the committee was aware of and considered a safety issue and determined there was no – or a minimal – hazard, that is evidence that can assist an employer to show that it acted with due diligence.

Ontario (Ministry of Labour) v. Magna Seating Inc., 2015 ONCJ 7 (CanLII)

Having an active joint health and safety committee can help employers defend against OHSA charges, court decision suggests

“If you think your salary is low . . .”: employer’s presentation was “offensive, distasteful and inappropriate as a motivational tool”, but not illegal

An adjudicator has criticized an employer’s motivational presentation as “offensive, distasteful and inappropriate as a motivational tool”, but found that it was not illegal.

The presentation was delivered by a Regional Manager with the Ontario Ministry of Transportation to Transportation Enforcement Officers employed by that Ministry.  It was called, “New Year New Outlook”.

The presentation contained “graphic imagery of poverty in the developing world” and compared this imagery to “trivial” problems in the developed world. One slide asked, “If you think your salary is low, how about her?” accompanied by a photo of a child.  Another slide asked, “Why do we complain?” while the next slide stated, “Let’s Have New Expectations!”

Some employees, noting that the collective agreement was set to be negotiated that year, felt that the presentation was a tool to disincentivize the union from bargaining an advantageous agreement for them.  One employee said she felt that the presentation was calling her and other employees lazy and insinuating that they demanded too much.  Employees felt that the presentation was condescending and presumptuous and suggested that they were lucky to have jobs.

The union argued that since the majority of the images of poverty in the developing world showed people of colour, the use of those images violated the Human Rights Code.  The adjudicator, a member of the Grievance Settlement Board, noted that none of the employees asserted that they have racial characteristics that were protected under the Code; hence, there was no discrimination proven.

The union also argued that the presentation constituted harassment under the Human Rights Code.  The adjudicator rejected that argument because the union had not even “asserted that the harassment alleged to have taken place was because of a protected characteristic possessed by any of the” employees.

Lastly, the adjudicator decided that there were no facts asserted that showed that any of the employees suffered any discriminatory treatment because of their union membership or activity.  The employer’s message that they should be content with their employment terms was not discriminatory because of their union membership.

The adjudicator went on to state that by deciding that the presentation did not violate the collective agreement or the Human Rights Code, he was not saying that the presentation was “fine”.  Instead, he stated:

“The Board’s acceptance for purposes of this motion that the presentation was offensive, distasteful and inappropriate as a motivational tool, cannot possibly lead to a finding that any of the collective agreement or statutory rights of the grievors were violated . . . The dismissal of these grievances on the basis of absence of jurisdiction is certainly not, and ought not be seen as, a finding by the Board that the employer conduct was ‘fine’ or that the Board endorses such conduct.  The fact that 39 individuals found the presentation to be offensive to such an extent to cause them to grieve, speaks for itself. The employer, through communications of regret/apology appears to have realized that the presentation was negatively received by a large number of employees.”

The grievance against the presentation was therefore dismissed.

Ontario Public Service Employees Union (Brydges et al) v Ontario (Transportation), 2014 CanLII 74778 (ON GSB)

“If you think your salary is low . . .”: employer’s presentation was “offensive, distasteful and inappropriate as a motivational tool”, but not illegal

OHSA charges dismissed: not appropriate for MOL to charge under “general duty” clause where specific regulation addressed safety issue

In dismissing Occupational Health and Safety Act charges against an employer arising out of a fatality, an Ontario court has held that it is not appropriate for the Ministry of Labour to charge under the “general duty clause” found in s. 25(2)(h) of the OHSA to “extend requirements beyond those specifically outlined in” the regulations under the OHSA.

In the case at hand, a worker had been welding a large steel product, approximately 6.5 feet off the ground, standing on planks atop A-frame steps.  He fell to his death.

The MOL charged the employer under section 25(2)(h), often called the “general duty clause”. That section requires employers to “take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker”. The charge alleged that the employer “failed to take the reasonable precaution of installing guardrails at the open sides of a raised wood platform”. A second charge alleged that the employer failed to properly train the worker regarding working on a raised platform.

The employer successfully argued that the Industrial Regulations under the OHSA specifically dealt with guardrails and did not require a guardrail around the planks on which the worker was working. Section 13 of that Regulation, which was in the “Premises” section of the Regulation, required a guardrail around the perimeter of an uncovered opening in a floor, roof or other surface, and at the open side of a raised floor or other surface. The Justice of the Peace decided, however, that section 13 dealt only with “fixtures” – that is, surfaces such as a walkway that were attached to the premises.  It did not require a guardrail around the planks on which the worker was working atop two portable A-frame steps.

The Justice of the Peace held that it was not appropriate to attempt to use the general duty clause in s. 25(2)(h) of the OHSA to impose a stricter requirement than was found in the Regulation. Put another way, a guardrail could not be a “reasonable precaution” where the Regulation section that dealt with guardrails did not require one.

The Justice of the Peace also dismissed the training charge, holding that because a guardrail was not required, there was “no gap” in the training provided to the worker with respect to working on a raised platform.

Ontario (Ministry of Labour) v. Quinton Steel (Wellington) Limited, 2014 ONCJ 713 (CanLII)

OHSA charges dismissed: not appropriate for MOL to charge under “general duty” clause where specific regulation addressed safety issue

False assault allegation against supervisor was just cause for dismissal: video evidence was conclusive

An employee who filed a written complaint, falsely alleging that his supervisor deliberately ran into him with a sharp blow from his shoulder, was dismissed for cause, an arbitrator has held.

Unfortunately for the employee, video evidence showed his allegation to be false.

The employee, a warehouse worker, had seven years of service and had received two prior suspensions in the previous twelve-month period.

The supervisor denied the allegation, and no witnesses supported the employee’s version of events.  Video evidence showed the corridor at the time when, according to the employee, he was assaulted.  The video showed that no such assault took place.

The arbitrator held that the evidence was overwhelmingly against the employee’s account of what had occurred. In particular, the video showed that there was no contact.  The employee had falsified the allegation against his supervisor.  This was very serious, as the allegation was that the supervisor had committed assault.  That allegation, if accepted, “could have extremely negative consequences” for the supervisor including possible criminal charges. The allegation was calculated to harm the supervisor.  The making of the allegation was so serious as to “undermine the possibility of any ongoing employment relationship”.

As such, the employee was dismissed for just cause.

DB Ontario Inc. v United SteelworkersLocal 3327, 2014 CanLII 77057 (ON LA)

 

False assault allegation against supervisor was just cause for dismissal: video evidence was conclusive

“Not the right fit”? Fired hours after MOL inspector’s visit, employee awarded $19,000 in damages

Employers who have bona fide reasons for dismissing an employee should avoid using “not the right fit”. They should also show up at Ontario Labour Relations Board hearings.

An employee who was dismissed hours after a Ministry of Labour inspector’s visit, was fired in retaliation for raising safety issues and was awarded $19,000.00 in damages.

The employee was a maintenance manager at a hotel.  In May 2014, an anonymous telephone call was made to a MOL health and safety inspector regarding floor drains backing up at the hotel as well as a “precariously hanging partition wall hanging in the ballroom”.  Around the same time, the employee had informed the hotel’s General Manager that the employee required a fall protection harness in order to work on a 25 foot high scaffold. The General Manager refused his request and ordered him to do the work without a safety harness.

The MOL inspector met with the employee and General Manager, and issued an order that required the hotel to use a suitable company to repair the partition wall as it was too dangerous for the maintenance department to repair.  Despite that, the General Manager continued to pressure the employee to climb the scaffold.

A few hours after the inspector left, the General Manager dismissed the employee. The termination letter stated that the employee was “not the right fit to our hotel property”, while the hotel’s response to the employee’s reprisal complaint at the OLRB claimed that he was “not skilled enough for the position” and that he had not been terminated “because he refused dangerous work”.

The Ontario Labour Relations Board found that the hotel’s “attempted explanation” for the employee’s dismissal was questionable, “to express it mildly”.  If the employee had not been the right fit, or was not skilled enough, then there would have been written or verbal evidence to that effect.  However, there was no evidence that the employee had any shortcomings, and in fact the General Manager had responded “Awesome” to an e-mail from the employee in which he had described some “things which I would like to accomplish in the maintenance department”.  No one had attended the OLRB hearing for the hotel.

The OLRB decided that the employee had suffered a reprisal under the Occupational Health and Safety Act: he was fired for raising safety issues.  That was a violation of the OHSA.  There was no other possible conclusion.  The OLRB awarded the employee six months’ wages, amounting to $19,000.00, and ordered the hotel to post a copy of the OLRB’s decision in the hotel’s premises so it could be read by maintenance staff.

Sean Rapke v Sylvanacre Properties Limited o/a Four Points Sheraton, 2014 CanLII 75962 (ON LRB)

“Not the right fit”? Fired hours after MOL inspector’s visit, employee awarded $19,000 in damages

Supervisor fined after workers exposed to asbestos dust

A supervisor with an asbestos abatement company, and his employer, have pleaded guilty to charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and were fined, after workers were exposed to asbestos dust on a job site.

The supervisor was fined $4,000.00 after pleading guilty to failing to ensure workers used protective clothing and equipment.

Three workers were working on an asbestos abatement project at a single-family home. The abatement area was enclosed.  In that area, certain asbestos containing materials had been removed and there was an asbestos dust hazard present.

A Ministry of Labour inspector attended and conducted an inspection.  The inspector found one of the workers exiting the enclosed area wearing street clothing.  Two other workers were found inside the enclosed area not wearing protective clothing; one was performing clean-up and the other was securing bags filled with asbestos-containing material.

The Ministry of Labour, in its press release, states that “There is potential for harm when workers and others are exposed to even small amounts of asbestos.”

The company pleaded guilty to failing to ensure that only persons wearing protective clothing and equipment enter a work area where there is an asbestos dust hazard. The company was fined $25,000.00.

The Ministry of Labour generally does not put out a press release for cases involving a fine of less than $50,000.00.  It appears from this and other press releases in asbestos cases, though, that the MOL may make an exception for cases involving asbestos.

The Ministry of Labour’s press release may be read here.

 

Supervisor fined after workers exposed to asbestos dust

Employer Who Voluntarily Complied with MOL Inspector’s Orders Was Not Entitled to Suspension of Orders Pending Appeal

The Ontario Labour Relations Board has held that where an employer had complied with a Ministry of Labour inspector’s compliance orders under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, to the satisfaction of the MOL, the operation of the orders should not be suspended while the employer appeals the orders.

Employers sometimes appeal MOL inspectors’ orders after an accident, in the hopes of obtaining a decision from the OLRB that the employer did not commit any violation of the OHSA that would justify the orders.  Such a decision can be useful in avoiding charges under the OHSA.

In those cases, employers will often seek a suspension of the inspector’s orders until the appeal is decided.

The OLRB decided, however, that where the employer has already complied with an order, the suspension request is moot and should not be granted. In particular, there was no prejudice to the employer if the operation of the order was not suspended.

This decision shows that an employer wishing to obtain such a suspension cannot voluntarily comply with the orders. Instead, the employer must quickly appeal the order and apply for a suspension, before the deadline set by the MOL inspector for compliance with the order.  The employer may, however, proceed with the appeal of the (unsuspended) order.

Horizon Utilities Corporation v A, 2014 CanLII 75404 (ON LRB)

Employer Who Voluntarily Complied with MOL Inspector’s Orders Was Not Entitled to Suspension of Orders Pending Appeal