“The larger the corporation, the larger the fine”: A corporate defendant’s financial circumstances is a relevant sentencing factor for breaches of a regulatory scheme

A small, family owned and operated custom cabinet business was fined $75,000 plus the Victim Fine Surcharge of $11,250 after pleading guilty to failing to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of a worker. The charges stemmed from a workplace incident in which a worker had slipped and caught his hand on a piece of machinery. The machine’s pressure sensitive mat safeguard that would have shut down the machine had been bypassed. It had been damaged approximately 3 years earlier but the employer chose not to replace it.

The impact with the machine caused the worker’s flesh to be peeled back and he also sustained a broken wrist. The injured worker had been trained to operate the machine and was aware of its safety features, including the fact that the safety mat was not operational.

The Court noted that the primary function of sentencing for regulatory breaches was deterrence; however, sentencing was still an individualized process requiring that all factors be considered, not just deterrence. The relevant factors included the financial circumstances of the corporate defendant. In the Judge’s view, the larger the corporation, the larger the fine. Conversely, when sentencing smaller corporations with more restrictive financial viability, the Court should apply a sentence that reflects that situation while still deterring offenders in similar circumstances from committing similar offences.

The other factors considered by the Court in its sentencing decision were:

  • The employer had no previous safety related offences;
  • The employer properly trained its employees and had regular safety training sessions;
  • The employer pled guilty, was remorseful and cooperative;
  • The employer recognized that it was accountable and an officer had been present in court during the proceedings;
  • The injuries sustained were at the lower end of the severity continuum;
  • Although a fine of up to $100,000 (as suggested by the Crown) would not devastate the employer, it would certainly impose a severe sting on the employer; and
  • While the employer was negligent in not repairing the safety mat, its conduct did not constitute gross negligence.

In light of these factors, the Court considered the Crown’s suggested amount of $100,000 to be too high. The Court determined that a fine of $75,000 was appropriate as that was a substantial and significant amount that would not be viewed as a slap on the wrist. It would be clearly felt by the employer and would serve as a warning for other similar offenders in similar circumstances.

R. v. The Kitchen Centre Ltd., 2016 ABPC 12

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Cristina Wendel

About Cristina Wendel

Cristina advises and represents employers in all aspects of occupational health and safety matters, including day-to-day compliance, incident response, investigations and defending employers charged with occupational health and safety offences. She also represents federally and provincially regulated, unionized and non-unionized employers in a variety of employment and labour law matters such as wrongful dismissal claims, employment standards disputes, human rights issues, labour arbitrations and labour relations board proceedings.

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