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When is a Release effective to bar a safety-related complaint? Appeal court weighs in

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A release, signed by a terminated employee, barred her complaint against her employer under occupational health and safety legislation, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal has decided.

The employee was a nurse at a long-term care home.  The employer dismissed her during the probationary period on the basis that she was “not suitable”.  After getting legal advice, she signed a release in exchange for one month’s termination pay.

Less than a month after signing the release, she filed a complaint with the Occupational Health and Safety division of the Saskatchewan Ministry of Labour, alleging that prior to her termination, she had raised safety issues with management regarding bullying and unsafe staffing levels.

The court stated that OHS legislation is for the general benefit of employees, and that benefit should not be bargained away by a release or other agreement.  However, once a “triggering events” occurs which provides a worker with the right to make a complaint under OHS legislation, that right becomes “personal” to the worker.  Where a worker has given a release in respect of a personal right, the validity of the release must be reviewed.  Also, for the release to be effective to bar the personal OHS complaint, the timing of signing of the release (before or after the personal OHS issue arose) must be examined.

In this case, the release was valid, and the personal OHS issue occurred before the release was signed.  Therefore the employee was barred from advancing the OHS complaint.  Her OHS complaint was dismissed.

Wieler v Saskatoon Convalescent Home, 2017 SKCA 90 (CanLII)