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Posts tagged: employment law toronto

What does “failing to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker” mean?

By , January 19, 2018 10:03 am

When the Ministry of Labour lays charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (“OHSA”) after a workplace injury it often includes a charge under section 25(2)(h) of OHSA which states that an employer is required to “take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker”.

A recent case, Ontario (Labour) v. Quinton Steel (Wellington) Limited, 2017 ONCA 1006 interpreted this rather broad statutory obligation.

The Facts

Martin Vryenhoek died when he fell from a temporary welding platform. The platform was 6 feet and 6 inches tall, did not have guardrails, and no fall arrest equipment was utilized. The employer was charged under the OHSA for, among other things, “failing to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker”. Under the applicable regulation, the installation of guardrails was not specifically required, and the worker was not specifically required to wear fall protection equipment because he was working at a height of less than three metres.

The Trial Decision

The trial justice acquitted the employer, concluding that the applicable regulation was a “complete and discrete code with respect to the requirements for protecting workers from falls in a case such as this.”

The Court of Appeal Decision

The Court of Appeal disagreed with the trial judge and stated that an employer’s duty under section 25(2)(h) to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances does not depend on the existence of a specific regulation prescribing or proscribing particular conduct. Instead, this Court found an employer’s duty under 25(2)(h) is broader than what is contained in the prescribed regulations. The Court also concluded the trial judge failed to ask whether the installation of guardrails was a reasonable precaution necessary in the circumstances of the case. A new trial has been ordered.

Lessons to be Learned

  • An employer can comply with all of its obligations under the regulations under OHSA and be convicted.
  • The duty to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker is broader than the specific obligations that are set out in OHSA and the accompanying regulations.
  • To be in a position to show it took every precaution reasonable in the circumstances an employer should implement a health & safety program which, among other things, identifies workplace hazards and potentially unsafe situations and implements training and instruction in relation to these hazards and unsafe situations. This can include daily toolbox meetings in some circumstances. For other measures that an employer can introduce, click here.

For over 30 years, Doug MacLeod of the MacLeod Law Firm has been advising employers on all aspects of the employment relationship. If you have any questions, you can contact him directly at 416 317-9894 or at [email protected]

The material and information in this blog and this website are for general information only. They should not be relied on as legal advice or opinion. The authors make no claims, promises, or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of any information referred to in this blog or its links. No person should act or refrain from acting in reliance on any information found on this website or blog. Readers should obtain appropriate professional advice from a lawyer duly licensed in the relevant jurisdiction. These materials do not create a lawyer-client relationship between you and any of the authors or the MacLeod Law Firm.

Employer Alert: Termination Clause UPHELD by Ontario’s Court of Appeal in Nemeth v. Hatch Ltd

By , January 12, 2018 2:20 pm

On Monday, Ontario’s Court of Appeal concluded in Nemeth v. Hatch Ltd., 2018 ONCA 7 that the following termination clause was legally enforceable and that the terminated employee who had been employed for 19 years was entitled to 19 weeks termination pay:

The Termination Clause

The Company’s policy with respect to termination is that employment may be terminated by either party with notice in writing. The notice period shall amount to one week per year of service with a minimum of four weeks or the notice required by the applicable labour legislation.

My guess is that most employment lawyers who have read this decision are scratching their collective heads, and asking, “What?”

This decision will result in many plaintiff side lawyers taking pause and re-evaluating their cases.

Until this case was released many trial judges were bending over backwards to find uncertainty and ambiguity in termination clauses and striking them down which benefited employees. For a summary of some of these cases click here

The decision in Nemeth v. Hatch Ltd. is a good case in point. An enforceable termination clause meant the employee was entitled to 19 weeks termination pay. If the clause had been found to be unenforceable however then the employee would have been entitled to closer to 19 months notice.

Lesson To Be Learned

At the moment, it is extremely difficult if not impossible to guess whether or not an Ontario trial judge will enforce a termination clause in an employment contract. The Court of Appeal has found a number of such clauses to be enforceable however for the last few years trial judges have been finding ways to get around these cases or as, lawyers say, have concluded these decisions are distinguishable.

In Nemeth v. Hatch Ltd. the Court of Appeal may have been trying to bring more certainty to the law as it relates to the enforceability of termination clauses. In the short term, however, I predict that this decision will create more uncertainty in this area of the law.

Doug’s Year End Rant

By , December 19, 2017 8:46 am

Earlier this week I concluded that the rule of law no longer applies in many Ontario workplaces. The epiphany hit me when I was meeting with the Managing Director of a boutique law firm.

When I use the expression “rule of law” I mean the principle that all people and institutions are subject to and accountable to law that is fairly applied and enforced.

The fact is many employers are unaware of many of the laws that apply to them, and the Ontario government is not enforcing many of them.

You would think that a law firm would be aware of the laws that apply to it but the reality is that most small and medium size law firms do not have a dedicated HR person and do not have an employment lawyer on staff.

Here are some of the employment laws that apply to a small firm:

As of December 31, 2017 the Law Society of Upper Canada  – soon to be the Law Society of Ontario – requires: all lawyers to adopt a statement of principles acknowledging their obligation to promote equality, diversity and inclusion, and: all law firms with 10 or more lawyers to develop a human rights/diversity policy dealing with recruitment, retention and promotion. There is much uncertainty relating to the required contents of these documents.

As of December 31, 2017 an employer with 20 or more employees must file a compliance report under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (“AODA”). By 2015 about 65 % of employers had not complied with the 2012 reporting obligation. In addition, nine new obligations were imposed on small employers under AODA earlier this year including the obligation to notify job applicants that accommodations for disabilities will be provided on request.  

On November 22, 2017 the government passed a myriad of significant changes to Ontario’s employment standards law. Some of the changes became effective immediately and many of the changes will take effect on January 1, 2018.

Although a law firm office is not a particularly dangerous place to work, all employees are required to receive mandatory health & safety awareness training under the Occupational Health & Safety Act and mandatory customer service training under AODA. In addition,  employers with more than 5 employees must prepare, post & review annually a health & safety policy, a workplace harassment policy, and a workplace violence policy. Furthermore, all employers are required to appoint a trained investigator to investigate an incident of workplace harassment, and the employer must have a written complaint and investigation process. The employee need not file a complaint; the obligation is to investigate incidents and formal complaints. If not, the Ministry of Labour can appoint an external investigator at the employer’s expense. 

The list of new obligations that have been imposed on Ontario employers in recent years goes on and on.

You would think a small or medium sized law firm would know about all of its legal obligations and comply with them but I doubt all or even most of these law firms are in compliance.

When reputable, well intentioned small to medium size law firms do not follow the rule of law how can we expect less knowledgeable employers to do so.

So I ask the Ontario government: Will you stop introducing new laws that are not being followed or being enforced, and start educating employers on their obligations? When this education process is complete will you start enforcing these laws?

For over 30 years, Doug MacLeod of the MacLeod Law Firm has been advising employers on all aspects of the employment relationship. If you have any questions, you can contact him directly at 416 317-9894 or at [email protected]

The material and information in this blog and this website are for general information only. They should not be relied on as legal advice or opinion. The authors make no claims, promises, or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of any information referred to in this blog or its links. No person should act or refrain from acting in reliance on any information found on this website or blog. Readers should obtain appropriate professional advice from a lawyer duly licensed in the relevant jurisdiction. These materials do not create a lawyer-client relationship between you and any of the authors or the MacLeod Law Firm.

Top 10 Employment Law Developments in 2017

By , December 4, 2017 1:43 pm

In 2017, the provincial legislature and Ontario judges continued to change Ontario’s employment laws. These changes resulted in higher payroll costs and a more regulated workplace. This blog briefly identifies 10 employment law developments from the past year.

1.Changes to the Employment Standards Act. Many changes were made to this law in November. Most of these changes take effect on January 1, 2018 which doesn’t give employers much time to change existing practices and policies. We offer a fixed fee service for employers who need help complying with these changes.

2.Ministry of Labour inspectors are visiting more Ontario workplaces. In the past, most inspections were the result of an employee complaint. Now the MOL is getting more proactive. For the last several years, the MOL has initiated strategic inspection blitzes. In 2017 the MOL announced it is hiring 175 additional ESA enforcement officers. This means your organization is much more likely to be inspected for compliance with Ontario’s employment laws including the many changes to the ESA that take effect January 1, 2018.

3. Accommodating employees with mental disabilities may be the fastest growing area of human rights law.  We recently devoted ⅓ of our employment law conference to this topic. It seems as if more and more employees are debilitated by depression and anxiety, and often an employee’s interaction with their supervisor triggers a mental disability. It is a complex area fraught with legal uncertainty. The duty to inquire about a person’s health when there are objective signs that the person may have a mental disability is one such issue.

4. Damages for employee terminations are going up. In the past, the sole issue in most wrongful dismissal cases was how much pay the employer owes the employee in lieu of the notice of termination that the employee should have received.  Now employees routinely seek several kinds of additional damages. A 2017 decision considered the termination of a 44-year-old female supervisor with 9 years’ service shortly after filing a sexual harassment complaint. The trial judge awarded her 10 months pay in lieu of reasonable notice, $ 60 000 in moral damages because of the way she was terminated, $ 25 000 for the way the employer handled her human rights complaint,  interest, and about $ 425 000 in legal fees. The Court of Appeal increased the damage award. In another case, a trial judge awarded a terminated employee, among other damages,  $ 100 000 for the intentional infliction of mental stress and the tort of harassment which I believe was recognized as a legal cause of action in the employment context for the first time.  

5. Termination clauses in employment contracts continue to be successfully attacked. We have written several blogs on this issue. Some judges are refusing to enforce termination clauses whereas others do, so there is considerable legal uncertainty in this area. I’m hoping the Supreme Court of Canada will provide some guidance in this area. In the meantime, we suggest that employment contracts be reviewed periodically – especially termination clauses.We provide this service for a fixed fee

6. Changes to AODA. The Employment Standards under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act came into effect for all employers in 2017. Did you know this law imposes 9 new obligations  on all employees, and 2 additional obligations on organizations with more than 50 employees? Also, did you know that organizations with more than 20 employees must file a report with the government by December 31, 2017? We offer a fixed fee service  for employers who need help complying with these obligations.

7. Sexual harassment. The Harvey Weinstein story shone a light on this issue – again. Changes to Ontario’s health and safety law in late 2016 amended the definition of “workplace harassment” to include sexual harassment. Employees now have the right to have complaints investigated by a trained person, and be told the outcome of the investigation and whether the alleged harasser was disciplined. We offer a fixed fee service for employers who have not complied with the new obligations imposed on employers including the obligation to implement a written workplace harassment investigation procedure.

8. Pregnancy and parental leave extended to 18 months. The federal government and provincial government have amended laws to make this happen. As written about in our blog, now employees can take 12 months EI benefits over an 18 month period. 

9. Drug testing. The federal government plans to regulate the sale of marijuana and it won’t be limited to people who need it for medical purposes. Recently some judges have found that drug testing is permitted in certain circumstances. I predict that more and more employers will be implementing drug and alcohol policies in 2018.

10. Employee bonuses. Is an employee entitled to the bonus they would have earned if they had received notice of termination? This often turns on how to  interpret the term “actively employed”. The Alberta Court of Appeal and Ontario Court of Appeal seem to be taking a different approach to this issue. Accordingly, it looks like the Supreme Court of Canada will have to decide this issue. In the meantime, we suggest that bonus clauses in employment contracts be updated.

For 30 years, Doug MacLeod of the MacLeod Law Firm has been advising employers on all aspects of the employment relationship. If you have any questions, you can contact him directly at 416 317-9894 or at [email protected]

The material and information in this blog and this website are for general information only. They should not be relied on as legal advice or opinion. The authors make no claims, promises, or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of any information referred to in this blog or its links. No person should act or refrain from acting in reliance on any information found on this website or blog. Readers should obtain appropriate professional advice from a lawyer duly licensed in the relevant jurisdiction. These materials do not create a lawyer-client relationship between you and any of the authors or the MacLeod Law Firm. 

Fixed Term Employment Contracts Still A Bad Idea

By , January 11, 2017 3:07 pm

We’ve written before on how fixed term employment contracts are not a good idea. A recent decision from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice confirms the law on this point so far, and serves as yet another lesson to employers considering offering such a contract to temporary employees.

Ballim v Bausch & Lomb Canada Inc.

In October 2015, Ms. Menezes spoke to Ms. Ballim about possible employment with Bausch & Lomb (“the Company”) to replace her as she was going on maternity leave. Ms. Ballim was interested in the opportunity and attended two interviews, the latter being with Mr. Moniz.

In November 2015, Mr. Moniz sent an email to Ms. Ballim with the subject matter “Offer.” The email stated it was a one-year contract, and attached an employment agreement that Ms. Ballim was to sign.

The employment agreement provided that Ms. Ballim’s employment was on a contract basis, that her employment would be commencing on November 18, 2015 and that she would receive payment of $2,230.77 bi-weekly in 26 installments equating to an annual base salary of $58,000. Ms. Ballim executed the employment agreement and began work immediately.

Approximately one month after commencing her employment, Ms. Ballim asked for an unpaid leave of absence to travel to South Africa on compassionate grounds. Ms. Ballim’s request was approved, she was to return to work on February 18, 2016 at the latest. In reality, Ms. Ballim did not return until February 22, 2016. Upon her return, Ms. Ballim was informed that her employment was being terminated.

Because Ms. Ballim had been employed for three months, the Company took the position that she was only entitled to one week notice of termination under the Employment Standards Act. On a gratuitous basis, it provided her with an additional week.

Ms. Ballim obtained new employment in May 2016 and earned a salary of $72,000.

Ms. Ballim brought a motion for summary judgment arguing that she had a fixed term contract of one year. If she was successful, she would be entitled to recover all damages for the unexpired term of the contract. The Company argued that the plaintiff was hired for an indefinite term and that as such, she was only entitled to reasonable notice.

Was the Contract a Fixed Term Contract?

The judge found that the offer to Ms. Ballim consisted of both the email and employment agreement. This finding was important as it was the email that stated it was a one-year contract, not the employment agreement. The Company tried to argue that the contract was for an indefinite term as Ms. Menezes could have returned to work at any point in time.

The judge disagreed: the contract had a start date; Ms. Ballim was to be paid every two weeks in 26 installments, which was consistent with the accompanying email that expressly provided for a one-year duration. Although no precise end date was specified, it could be easily inferred to be one year from November 18, 2015.

Given this finding, the Company was required to pay Ms. Ballim to the end of the term. As per the Ontario Court of Appeal decision of Howard v Benson, these damages were not subject to mitigation. Therefore, she was entitled to damages from the breach of contract for the balance of 38.5 weeks.

Lessons to be Learned

  1. It is generally a bad idea to ask an employee to enter into a fixed term contract.
  2. If a fixed term contract must be used, it must include an (enforceable) early termination clause.
  3. The termination clause should also require the employee to mitigate their damages if the contract is terminated early.

“The material and information provided on this blog and this website are for general information only and should not, in any respect, be relied on as legal advice or opinion. The authors make no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of any information linked or referred to or contained herein. No person should act or refrain from acting in reliance on any information found on this website or blog, without first retaining counsel and obtaining appropriate professional advice from a lawyer duly licensed to practice law in the relevant jurisdiction. These materials do not constitute legal advice and do not create a lawyer-client relationship between you and any of the authors or the MacLeod Law Firm.”

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