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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

“Who is a supervisor?” Ontario Ministry of Labour releases guideline

Employers often struggle with the question of who is a “supervisor” under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act. The answer to that question is obviously important because supervisors have legal duties under the OHSA, violations of which can lead to charges and fines.

The Ontario Ministry of Labour has recently released a “guideline” called, ”Who is a Supervisor under the Occupational Health and Safety Act?”

The MOL provides, in that guideline, two lists of “powers and responsibilities that may be exercised or carried out by a supervisor”. The MOL says that the first list includes powers that are “primary indicators of being in a supervisory role”, and the second list “includes responsibilities that would generally be carried out on the job site by a front-line supervisor who interacts directly with workers”:

“1.  Powers that are primary indicators of being in a supervisory role include the power to:

  • hire, fire or discipline,
  • recommend hiring, firing or discipline,
  • promote, demote or transfer,
  • decide a worker’s rate of pay,
  • award bonuses,
  • approve vacation time,
  • grant leaves of absence, or
  • enforce procedures established to protect worker health and safety.

2.  A person with none of the powers listed above could still be a supervisor as defined in the OHSA, if he or she has some of the following responsibilities:

  • determining the tasks to be done, and by whom,
  • directing and monitoring how work is performed,
  • managing available resources such as staff, facilities, equipment, budget,
  • deciding on and arranging for equipment to be used on a job site,
  • deciding the make-up of a work crew,
  • deciding on and scheduling hours of work,
  • dealing directly with workers’ complaints, or
  • directing staff and other resources to address health and safety concerns.”

The MOL guidance goes on to provide examples as well as summaries of relevant court decisions.

Ontario employers, particularly those in safety-sensitive businesses, should familiarize themselves with the guideline, and ensure that all supervisors (1) know that they are “supervisors” under the OHSA, (2) have taken the MOL’s required basic supervisory safety awareness training, (3) are fully aware of their duties under the OHSA, and (4) have received the workplace-specific safety training necessary for them to comply with their duties under the OHSA.

“Who is a supervisor?” Ontario Ministry of Labour releases guideline

Two company directors jailed 25 days after worker dies, no safety training provided

Rarely are senior corporate officials jailed for health and safety offences in Canada.  But recently, two company directors of an importer and retailer of furniture and accessories, were jailed for 25 days after a worker died from a fall.

The Ontario Ministry of Labour says, in its press release, that the worker was moving merchandise at the Brampton workplace of New Mex Canada Inc., using a combination forklift /operator-up platform called an order picker. The order picker had been modified to add a platform supported by the forks that was tack-welded to the operator platform. There was no guardrail around the added platform. The worker was not wearing fall protection.  The worker was pronounced dead after he was found on the floor.  The cause of death was  determined to be blunt force trauma to the head.

The Ministry of Labour states that its investigation found that there had been no health and safety training provided to warehouse workers, and workers said that they were not provided with fall protection equipment.

The two corporate directors were charged with failing as directors of New Mex Canada Inc. to take reasonable care that the corporation complied with the Occupational Health and Safety Act and with Regulation 851 (Industrial Establishments). Both pleaded guilty.   Both received a 25-day jail sentence, to be served on weekends.  Also, both were ordered to take a health and safety course within 60 days.

Further, the employer, New Mex Canada Inc. was fined $250,000.  It pleaded guilty to failing to provide training and supervision to a worker regarding fall protection and/or working from a height, and failing to ensure the safety measures required by law were carried out.

The Ministry of Labour’s press release can be found here.

Two company directors jailed 25 days after worker dies, no safety training provided

Court considers safety, fatigue of replacement workers in granting picketing injunction

A British Columbia judge has considered an employer’s concerns for the safety of replacement workers, in granting an injunction against picketing workers.

The employer and Unifor were in a labour dispute.  Unifor was picketing the employer’s place of business.  In an affidavit submitted on the company’s motion for an injunction, a company manager expressed concern over the safety of the replacement workers due to fatigue:

“In addition to the financial consequences of these increased delays and of greater concern to Cascade are the potential health and safety consequences for CanJet and Trenton personnel. It is very rare that we schedule our production work force for 12 hour days for a significant number of days in a row. The reason this is rare is because of a concern we have for the health and safety of the workers due to fatigue. These workers are repairing complex commercial aircraft and are working with complex tools and equipment. During the course of their duties, they are operating flight controls and doing high-skilled professional work that without due diligence could result in significant damage to the aircraft and/or serious injury to personnel. During the time that the bus is stopped when trying to enter or exit the facility, these personnel cannot simply rest as they are constantly subject to picketers yelling, tapping and scraping their picket signs on the bus and peering through the windows of the bus, sometimes with cameras. I have serious concerns that the number of hours these workers are spending at work and on their way to and from work due to the increased delays in crossing the picket line could lead to exhaustion and a serious work place accident.”

Madam Justice Sharma of the B.C. Supreme Court stated that, “In all the circumstances, I find that there is urgency to this application because of the health and safety concerns of the people working for Cascade.”  She added, “It is clear that Cascade may suffer irreparable harm if the injunction is not granted. I am particularly concerned by the escalation of matters since this matter started.”

The employer was therefore entitled to a temporary injunction prohibiting the union members from “blocking, hindering, delaying or obstructing”.

Cascade Aerospace Inc. v. Unifor (Local 114), 2014 BCSC 1461 (CanLII)

Court considers safety, fatigue of replacement workers in granting picketing injunction

Ebola Preparedness for Employers: U.S. OSHA Launches Ebola Web Page

The United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has launched an Ebola Web Page for employers providing information on Ebola and how to protect workers.

OSHA states that workers, including healthcare and airline workers, performing tasks involving close contact with symptomatic individuals with Ebola, or who work in environments contaminated or reasonably anticipated to be contaminated with infectious body fluids, are at risk of exposure.

OSHA’s guidance includes information on hazard recognition, medical information, standards, and control and prevention.

OSHA has also issued a “Fact Sheet” called “Cleaning and Decontamination of Ebola on Surfaces: Guidance for Workers and Employers in Non-Healthcare/Non-Laboratory Settings”.

Here in Canada, Public Health Ontario and the Public Health Agency of Canada have also issued materials and guidance regarding Ebola.

Employers – particularly those whose workers may be at greater risk of exposure to Ebola – should prepare a plan for dealing with Ebola, including the logistics of telecommuting arrangements.  Employers’ obligation under health and safety legislation to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of workers, includes an obligation to take reasonable precautions relating to infectious diseases.

Stay tuned to Occupationalhealthandsafetylaw.com for further workplace-safety updates relating to Ebola.

Ebola Preparedness for Employers: U.S. OSHA Launches Ebola Web Page

Trucker who punched customer in the mouth was fired for cause

One would think it self-evident that employees who punch a customer’s employee in the face may be dismissed for just cause. But it took an appeal for an employer to win on that issue.

The employee was a truck driver with a small, privately-owned trucking company.   While at a customer’s premises, he got agitated at one of the customer’s employees and punched him in the mouth, knocking out one of his teeth.  The employer dismissed the truck driver and refused to pay his Canada Labour Code termination and severance pay.  The employee then filed a claim for those amounts.

Surprisingly, an Inspector under the Canada Labour Code, who was the first-level adjudicator, decided that the employer did not have just cause for dismissal because the company’s “expectations” had not been clear, there had been insufficient supervision to ensure compliance, and there had been no “clear warnings” as to what would happen if the employee engaged in unacceptable conduct.

The employer appealed to a referee, who disagreed with the Inspector.  The one incident, taken on its own, was just cause for dismissal.  The truck driver showed no remorse for his actions, even at the hearing where he said that the customer’s employee deserved what he got.   The appeal referee found that the truck driver had been evasive and dishonest at the appeal hearing.  The referee held that the punch was unprovoked and constituted just cause for dismissal; this meant that the employee was not entitled to termination pay and severance pay under the Canada Labour Code.

Although the employee had a spotty performance record, including a warning for a previous violent incident at a customer’s premises in which he was alleged to have threatened one of his co-workers with a hunting knife, the appeal referee decided that he did not need to rely on the past incidents, given the gravity of the later assault on the customer.

Our posts on other dismissal-for-violence cases can be viewed by clicking on the “Violence and Harassment” category on our occupationalhealthandsafetylaw.com blog.

Warner v Moore Brothers Transport Ltd., 2014 CanLII 54390 (ON LA)

Trucker who punched customer in the mouth was fired for cause

Alberta Employer Liable for Employee’s Negligent Driving of Company Vehicle – Even Though Employer Told Him Not to Drive It

Alberta employers should heed a recent appeal decision in which an employer was held liable for damage caused by an employee while driving a company vehicle – even though he was told not to drive it.

The employee worked for a roofing company. He was working on a residential roof. The employer gave him access to a company truck and trailer which were parked at the site, but only to access supplies and to keep warm. The employer told him not to drive the truck.

The employee disobeyed the instructions and drove the truck and got into an accident.

Section 187(2) of the Alberta Traffic Safety Act makes the owner of a vehicle liable if, at the time of the accident, the driver was in “possession” of the motor vehicle with the consent of the owner.

The appeal court decided that even though the employee did not have permission to drive the truck, he did have permission to use the truck for supplies and to keep warm. Thus, he was “in possession of” the truck, and the employer was liable for any damages caused by him in the accident. As long as the employee had consent to be in possession of the truck, which he did, the employer was liable.

In light of this decision, employers in Alberta – and across Canada – should review their policies on the use and “possession” of company vehicles. Especially where the employee does not have enough assets to satisfy a court judgment, plaintiff lawyers may seek to have the employer also declared liable.

Mustafi v. All-Pitch Roofing Ltd., 2014 ABCA 265 (CanLII)

Alberta Employer Liable for Employee’s Negligent Driving of Company Vehicle – Even Though Employer Told Him Not to Drive It

Despite Having WSIB Coverage, Worker Permitted to Sue “Physically Demonstrative” Executive Officer who “Massaged” her Neck

Physically demonstrative managers beware: your company’s workers compensation coverage does not necessarily protect you from lawsuits by employees.

Even though her employer had Workplace Safety and Insurance Board coverage, an employee was entitled to bring a lawsuit against an executive who “massaged” her neck, allegedly injuring her, Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal has ruled.

However, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act prohibited her from suing her employer for the neck injuries.

The employee alleged, in her court action, that the executive officer had injured her when he manipulated her head and neck without her consent, thereby committing assault and battery. The worker had a prior neck condition affecting her shoulder.

The executive officer was known to be physically demonstrative and had been warned by the employer’s human resources manager not to touch employees or customers unless it was necessary.

The WSIAT decided that because the employee was in the course of her employment at the time of the injury, she could not sue the employer.

However, she would be permitted to sue the executive in the courts if she could prove that he was not acting in an employment-related capacity when he massaged her neck.

The WSIAT decided, on the facts of this case, that in administering the massage, the executive “deviated substantially from his regular activity as an executive officer”. The conduct had nothing to do with his work duties, which was shown by the warning from the human resource manager. As such, he was not acting in an employment-related capacity when he massaged her neck, and the employee was permitted to sue him in the courts.

Decision No. 727/13, 2014 ONWSIAT 1128 (CanLII)

Despite Having WSIB Coverage, Worker Permitted to Sue “Physically Demonstrative” Executive Officer who “Massaged” her Neck

Ontario Government Responds to Early Results of Mine Safety Review

The Ontario government says that it is acting on the early results of the Mining Sector Health, Safety and Prevention Review.

In December 2013, the province asked Ontario’s Chief Prevention Officer to undertake a review of the occupational health and safety issues related to the mining sector, focusing first on underground mines.  The review involves consultation with labour, industry, academic, health and safety experts, as well as members of the public.

According to the Ministry of Labour Press release, Ontario’s response to the preliminary work of the advisory group includes the following:

  • Promoting high visibility apparel to increase the visibility of workers;
  • Developing a mining health database that will track incidents of illness, exposure to a number of carcinogenic substances;
  • Increasing the focus on hazards in the new training standards for joint health and safety committees; and
  • Funding a study to be completed by Laurentian University that will look for ways to reduce loss of feeling in the feet triggered by continuous use of vibrating machinery, which is said to put workers at greater risk for slip and fall injuries, especially on high work platforms.

The government says that it expects the review to conclude in early 2015 with a report and recommendations.

The Ministry of Labour’s press release can be found here.

Ontario Government Responds to Early Results of Mine Safety Review

“Discipline” included “dismissal”: employer did not breach safety-reprisal settlement when it dismissed employee after harassment investigation

An employer that dismissed an employee after a harassment investigation did not breach a previous safety-reprisal settlement with the employee, the Ontario Labour Relations Board has held.  In effect, the employer never promised not to dismiss the employee.

The employee had previously filed a safety-reprisal Application against the employer at the OLRB which was settled. The settlement terms stated that the employee was aware that a harassment complaint had been made against him, that the employer intended to retain an external investigator, and that the investigation “may result in discipline”.

After the harassment investigation was concluded, the employer dismissed the employee. The employee then filed a breach-of-settlement Application with the OLRB claiming that there had been no discussion that “discipline” could include “dismissal”.  He said that, instead, there had been a “common understanding” that some form of discipline may result from the harassment investigation, but that the purpose of the discipline would be to correct any misconduct and ensure adherence to company rules and policies.

The OLRB decided:

“The applicant asserts no facts that would lead the Board to conclude that the parties meant to exclude termination as a possible disciplinary response by Brose.  The applicant does not say, for example, that he received an assurance from Brose in the lead-up to the settlement that Brose would refrain from terminating him, or that the range of any possible disciplinary response would exclude termination.  The plain words of the settlement do not qualify the term ‘discipline’.  And as I have pointed out, Brose’s anti-harassment policy specifically contemplates termination as a possibility where harassment is found to have occurred.”

Interestingly, in coming to its decision that “discipline” included “dismissal”, the OLRB noted that the company’s policy on Harassment in the Workplace stated that employees found to have engaged in harassment “will be subject to discipline up to and including termination” – commonly-used wording in employment policies.  This wording suggested that, at least at this company and at least with respect to harassment, termination was a “subset of dismissal”.

Jeffery v Brose Canada Inc, 2014 CanLII 49707 (ON LRB)

“Discipline” included “dismissal”: employer did not breach safety-reprisal settlement when it dismissed employee after harassment investigation

No damages awarded for unforeseeable workplace assault, but employer ordered to rewrite harassment policy

The fact that an employee had engaged in harassment did not make it foreseeable that he would assault a coworker, a labour arbitrator has held.  However, the company’s harassment policy was deficient and needed to be rewritten.

The decision arose from a union grievance alleging that the employer had not provided an injury-free workplace.  An employee, Kryzanowski, alleged that another employee, Wilson, had struck him in the head from behind with a “rather substantial sized plastic lunch pail”. The union alleged that the company had breached the collective agreement and the Saskatchewan Occupational Health and Safety Act because of its actions or inactions both before and after the incident.

The arbitrator stated that there was no doubt that the assault constituted harassment as defined in the OHSA.  ”A serious physical assault, such as this one, is perhaps the most profound single incident of harassment that exists.”  However, according to the arbitrator, the core question was whether the company, through its management personnel and supervisors, knew or should have known that Wilson was a physical threat to other employees and failed to take steps to prevent it.

The arbitrator decided that although Wilson had demonstrated “meanness and bullying” behaviour towards Kryzanowski through numerous disrespectful comments, and the company’s management were sufficiently aware of Wilson’s conduct to know that he was mean-spirited and had anger problems, none of his previous actions were physical alterations and there was no evidence that he was on the verge of physically attacking a fellow employee.  The assault was not foreseeable by the company.

As such, Kryzanowski was not entitled to damages for the assault.  However, the company was ordered to keep Wilson and Kryzanowski on different shifts and direct Wilson to have no contact with Kryzanowski.

Lastly, the arbitrator found that the company’s harassment policy did not comply with the OHSA and regulations in that it was not kept current and did not include specific contents required by the regulations.  The arbitrator ordered the company to “take immediate steps to comply with the Occupational Health and Safety Act by writing its harassment policy to be compliant with the Act and regulations.”

Shaw Pipe Protection Limited v Construction and General Workers’ Local Union No 180, 2013 CanLII 94439 (SK LA)

No damages awarded for unforeseeable workplace assault, but employer ordered to rewrite harassment policy

MOL safety blitz results show many new businesses non-compliant with basic requirements

The results of a recent Ontario Ministry of Labour safety blitz shows many new small businesses violate basic legal requirements such as posting a copy of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.  And non-compliant employers can expect future visits from MOL inspectors.

The MOL says that between April 1, 2013 and March 31, 2014, its inspectors visited new small businesses in the industrial sector that had fewer than 20 workers.  The MOL says that it focused on “businesses that had registered with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), but had no prior contact with the ministry.”

Some of the  most common compliance orders issued by MOL inspectors in the blitz were: post a copy of the Occupational Health and Safety Act; prepare a health and safety policy and maintain a program; have a worker health and safety representative; have the health and safety representative conduct monthly inspections; provide “information and instruction” on workplace harassment; and maintain a workplace violence prevention program.

The MOL states that inspectors visited workplaces in the industrial sector including retail establishments, restaurants, wood and metal fabrication establishments, industrial services, wholesalers, automotive manufacturers and vehicle sales and service workplaces.

The MOL’s  enforcement initiative is being repeated in the 2014-2015 fiscal year, with each MOL industrial inspector expected to inspect four to eight small businesses with 50 or fewer workers, which have not been previously registered or inspected by the ministry. The MOL says that this initiative will “increase small business awareness of the workplace parties’ roles and responsibilities under OHSA and its regulations”, “promote awareness and compliance with new mandatory occupational health and safety training for workers and supervisors that came into effect on July 1, 2014″, and “support vulnerable workers by making them aware of their rights under the OHSA and the resources available to help them”.

As we have previously advised, employers should, in particular, ensure that they prepare and post all required postings under the OHSA, since doing so will show the MOL inspector that the employer is aware of its basic obligations and has a safety program in place.  See here for our article on health and safety posting requirements in Ontario.

MOL safety blitz results show many new businesses non-compliant with basic requirements

Employer asks HRTO for permission to access employer’s own “Occupational Health and Claims Management” file on employee

Must an employer obtain permission from the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario to access medical records held in the employer’s own file on an employee who filed a human rights complaint with the Tribunal? That question is raised by a recent Tribunal decision.

The employer submitted that Tribunal authorization was necessary “because there may be a conflict with respect to privacy standards required by applicable legislation. The respondent indicates that the expectations and protections under the Personal Health Information Protection Act, 2004 . . . for health information custodians regarding disclosure may be different from the duty imposed on employers by the Occupational Health and Safety Act . . . The respondent submitted that the Tribunal has granted the orders it seeks in other cases in which similar circumstances arose.”

The employer was likely referring to subs. 63(2) of the OHSA which states:

“No employer shall seek to gain access, except by an order of the court or other tribunal or in order to comply with another statute, to a health record concerning a worker without the worker’s written consent.”

Because the employee alleged disability-discrimination relating to her post-traumatic stress disorder, the Tribunal was satisfied that some but not all of the documents contained in the Occupational Health and Claims Management file were arguably relevant and that the employer required access to them in order to meaningfully respond to the employee’s human rights complaint.  Access was granted.

The case illustrates that employers seeking to use information in an employee medical file for litigation purposes should proceed cautiously and should seek a court or Tribunal order if necessary.

Feres v. Toronto Transit Commission, 2014 HRTO 980 (CanLII)

Employer asks HRTO for permission to access employer’s own “Occupational Health and Claims Management” file on employee

MOL permits employer to have multi-workplace joint health and safety committee, union’s challenge dismissed

A union has lost a request to suspend a Ministry of Labour Director’s order allowing a school board to establish a multi-workplace joint health and safety committee.

The Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act requires a joint health and safety committee at each workplace where twenty or more workers are regularly employed.  The default rule under the OHSA is that each workplace should have its own committee.  However, the Minister of Labour or his or her delegate has the power to make an Order permitting one joint health and safety committee to cover multiple workplaces.

The Peel District School Board received an Order from a Ministry of Labour Director permitting it to establish and maintain a multi-workplace joint health and safety committee according to certain “terms of reference”.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees challenged the MOL Director’s multi-workplace Order at the Ontario Labour Relations Board, and asked the OLRB to suspend that Order pending the outcome of the appeal.

The OLRB refused to suspend the Order, deciding that the OLRB “appears to have no jurisdiction to deal with anything but an inspector’s order”, not an Order of the Minister of Labour or an MOL Director.  As such, the OLRB had no authority to suspend the multi-workplace Order.

This decision shows that when one workplace party asks the Minister of Labour to permit a multi-workplace joint health and safety committee, the time for parties to make submissions is before the Minister (or MOL Director) makes his or her decision.  Effectively, there is no appeal to the OLRB.

Canadian Union of Public Employees v Peel District School Board, 2014 CanLII 38304 (ON LRB)

MOL permits employer to have multi-workplace joint health and safety committee, union’s challenge dismissed

Notes taken post-accident can lose privilege if used to refresh memory, court decision suggests

Privileged notes taken by a witness – or by the employer from a witness – after a workplace accident may cease to be privileged if used by the witness to prepare to testify in court, a recent court decision suggests.

The case, which was not an occupational health and safety case, involved charges of refusing to provide an “Approved Screening Device” sample. The charge is often laid where a driver refuses to blow into a breathalyzer to determine whether he or she was driving while impaired.

The accused testified that he had made notes after the incident, as his father had told him to write down everything that he remembered, word for word.  At trial, he testified that he had read the notes to prepare for trial.

The judge decided that the accused had used the notes to refresh his memory, and therefore the litigation privilege over the notes was lost.  The judge decided:

“When the accused chooses to refresh his memory from notes to which litigation privilege would otherwise apply prior to taking the stand, the Crown is entitled to see such notes subject to the court’s discretion. An accused person who has prepared notes to refresh their memory and uses those notes to the refresh their memory prior to testifying has waived any litigation privilege attached to those notes. It is important that the opposing party have the opportunity to test the memory of events and expose inaccuracies in memory.”

Employers facing Occupational Health and Safety Act charges should understand that notes that would otherwise be litigation-privileged that are taken by the employer after a workplace accident may lose their privilege, and therefore be obtained by the prosecutor, if used by a witness to refresh his or her memory before testifying.

R. v. Sachkiw, 2014 ONCJ 287 (CanLII)

Notes taken post-accident can lose privilege if used to refresh memory, court decision suggests

Are supervisors able to assess impairment? Drug driving decision suggests so

A recent Ontario decision suggests that laypersons - such as supervisors – may assess whether a person is impaired from drugs or alcohol, and their assessment will be considered in legal proceedings.

In a “drug driving” case, a driver was found guilty of driving while impaired by marijuana.   A police officer approached his vehicle and observed him as having bloodshot, glassy eyes and the smell of marijuana was coming from the vehicle.  The driver’s pupils were dilated. The driver admitted to having smoked a “J” approximately 2 1/2 hours earlier.  He was taken to a police station where another officer, a “drug recognition evaluator”, observed him and performed certain physical and other tests, and concluded that he was impaired.

The driver argued, on appeal, that the drug recognition evaluator should not have been accepted by the trial judge as an “expert” witness on drug recognition.  The appeal court disagreed, going on to state that the courts have had a long-accepted practice of admitting evidence of non-expert witnesses about whether a person was intoxicated or impaired.

Interestingly, a urine test came back negative for THC, the active ingredient in marijuana that causes physical impairment, but the court still decided that based on the police officers’ observations and assessments, the driver was impaired when he was driving (even if he was no longer impaired when the urine sample was taken).

The appeal court referenced the Evaluation of Impaired Operation (Drugs and Alcohol) Regulations, which are used by police officers who are “certified drug recognition experts” to evaluate whether a driver is impaired by drugs or alcohol. Those Regulations set out a number of tests that those officers can perform to assess whether the person is impaired.

Supervisors often question whether they have the expertise to assess whether an employee is impaired. This decision suggests that supervisors’ observations are important and will be relevant evidence in legal proceedings, such as a wrongful dismissal action by an employee who was dismissed for being impaired at work.  Supervisors tasked with identifying impairment should, preferably, be given training and materials (such as a checklist) to help them in the task.

R. v. Henry, 2014 ONSC 4115 (CanLII)

Are supervisors able to assess impairment? Drug driving decision suggests so

Ontario Bill to extend protection of OHSA to unpaid trainees

A new Ontario Bill will give unpaid trainees the protection of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.  The OHSA currently gives that protection to paid workers only.

The current definition of “worker” under the OHSA is “a person who performs work or supplies services for monetary compensation . . .”

Under Bill 18, the OHSA’s definition of “worker” will be expanded to include unpaid high school, college and university students in certain approved programs; as well as certain unpaid trainees receiving training for their own benefit and not for the benefit of the employer.  Bill 18 also allows the government to pass a regulation making other unpaid persons “workers” under the OHSA.

Practically, most employers will already apply their safety programs to unpaid trainees as if the OHSA already applied to them.  The main impact of the redefinition of “worker” will be that employers are now exposed to charges and fines if unpaid trainees – who, one suspects, have a higher than average risk of being injured – are in fact injured. This makes it all the more important that employers ensure that trainees receive all necessary safety training.

Bill 18 passed first reading on July 16, 2014.  Due to the Liberal majority, the Bill is expected to pass.  We do not yet know when the Bill will come into force.

Bill 18, which contains amendments to a number of other employment-related laws, may be accessed here.

Ontario Bill to extend protection of OHSA to unpaid trainees

Saskatchewan Introduces Ticketing System for Certain Workplace Safety Violations

As of July 1, 2014, Saskatchewan employers who violate certain occupational health and safety laws may be issued a Summary Offence Ticket, which carry fines ranging from $250 to $1,000, depending on the offence (plus victim surcharges).

According to the Saskatchewan Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety, these tickets are intended to avoid time-consuming and costly prosecutions, while serving as a deterrent to those who are non-compliant with occupational health and safety laws in Saskatchewan workplaces.

Two designated Occupational Health Officers will be issuing tickets for the 12 ticketable offences, which include failing to ensure that workers use personal protective equipment ($1,000); failing to ensure that workers use a fall protection system where a worker may fall three metres or more ($1,000); failing to submit a written progress report ($600); and failing to ensure that any opening or hole is covered and clearly marked or otherwise protected ($1,000).

It is likely that most tickets will be issued to employers, contractors, owners, self-employed persons and suppliers.  There is one offence that applies to workers: clear failure to use personal protective equipment that has been provided by the employer ($250). However, a worker will be ticketed only after the officer determines that the employer provided the worker with the correct PPE, adequately trained the worker on its use, and the worker disobeyed clear direction to use the PPE.

These safety tickets are like speeding tickets – they will typically be issued either on the spot or sent by mail after an officer has assessed the situation and facts on the ground.  Further, everyone who receives a ticket has the right to challenge it in court.

The government indicates that before issuing tickets, officers will assess the severity of the situation and will first try to use other tools, including Compliance Undertakings, Officer’s Reports, Notices of Contravention and Stop Work Orders.  Further, tickets will only be issued where all other avenues to ensure compliance with health and safety in the workplace have been exhausted or are ineffective.

The Saskatchewan Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety has prepared an overview of Summary Offence Ticketing.

Saskatchewan Introduces Ticketing System for Certain Workplace Safety Violations

Supreme Court denies chronic stress WCB claim after employee reacted to disciplinary letter

The Supreme Court of Canada has denied an employee’s claim for workers’ compensation benefits for “chronic stress” which he said resulted from a disciplinary letter that followed years of conflict over another workplace issue.

The employee, a park warden with Parks Canada, had for years argued that park wardens should be armed when carrying out law enforcement duties. He filed a health and safety complaint which generated internal complaint processes and a number of court cases and appeals.

Parks Canada received a request under access to information legislation and instructed the employee to disclose certain data on his work computer so that it could comply with the request. Parks Canada was not satisfied that he responded properly, so it gave him a letter notifying him that he would be disciplined if he did not provide an adequate response to the access to information request.

The employee already had a written reprimand on his file and feared that the next discipline would be dismissal. He claimed that the letter triggered a psychological condition that followed years of conflict over the health and safety issue. He filed a claim with the Alberta Workers’ Compensation Board. The relevant Alberta Workers’ Compensation Board policy stated:

11. When does WCB accept claims for chronic onset stress?

As with any other claim, WCB investigates the causation to determine whether the claim is acceptable. Claims for this type of injury are eligible for compensation only when all of the following criteria are met:

• there is a confirmed psychological or psychiatric diagnosis . . .

• the work-related events or stressors are the predominant cause of the injury; . . .

• the work-related events are excessive or unusual in comparison to the normal pressures and tensions experienced by the average worker in a similar occupation, and

• there is objective confirmation of the events.

In addition to the duties reasonably expected by the nature of the worker’s occupation, normal pressures and tensions include, for example, interpersonal relations and conflicts, health and safety concerns, union issues, and routine labour relations actions taken by the employer, including workload and deadlines, work evaluation, performance management (discipline), transfers, changes in job duties, lay-offs, demotions, terminations, and reorganizations, to which all workers may be subject from time to time. [pp. 5-6]“

There was no dispute that the employee had met the first two criteria under the policy to receive WCB benefits for chronic stress: that there was a confirmed psychological or psychiatric diagnosis, and that the work-related events or stressors were the predominant cause of the injury. However, the employer disputed that (1) the work-related events were excessive or unusual in comparison to the normal pressures and tensions experienced by the average worker in a similar occupation, and (2) there was objective confirmation of the events.

The Supreme Court of Canada decided that it was open to the Alberta Workers’ Compensation Board to find that the “predominant cause” of the employee’s psychological injury was his reaction to the letter, and that such request was not unusual in terms of normal pressures and tensions in a similar occupation. Therefore, the WCB’s decision to deny workers’ compensation benefits to the employee was reasonable.

Martin v. Alberta (Workers’ Compensation Board), 2014 SCC 25 (CanLII)

Supreme Court denies chronic stress WCB claim after employee reacted to disciplinary letter

Company fined $25,000 for operating electrical contracting business without license under Electricity Act after apprentice injured

An electrical contractor has been convicted and fined for carrying on an electrical contracting business without being licensed under the Ontario Electricity Act.

A young apprentice with the company was seriously injured after an electrical explosion.

The apprentice was disassembling and reassembling “conduit runs” under the supervision of “others who were his masters or supervisors”. He was “pulling a disconnect of a busbar” when it exploded.  There was a fire and molten metal fell on him.  He suffered lasting injuries.

The court found that the company operated an electrical contracting business without being the holder of an electrical contracting license pursuant to Regulation 570/05 (“Licensing of Electrical Contractors and Master Electricians”) under the Electricity Act.

The court accepted the prosecutor’s request for a $25,000 fine for failing to hold the contracting license.

This case shows that the mere failure to obtain an appropriate license can cost employers many thousands of dollars in fines where the employer carries out safety-sensitive work.

R. v. JF Industrial Systems (Windsor) Inc., 2013 ONCJ 766 (CanLII)

Company fined $25,000 for operating electrical contracting business without license under Electricity Act after apprentice injured