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Posts tagged: human rights lawyer Toronto

Arbitrator Finds Undue Hardship for Employer to Hire an Employee with a Medical Cannabis Prescription in a Safety-Sensitive Workplace

By , December 4, 2018 11:14 am

With the recent legalization of recreational cannabis across Canada, employers are increasingly worried about its impact on safety-sensitive workplaces. Even though medical cannabis has been legal in Canada since 2001, similar concerns continue to exist about how to accommodate an employee where they hold a safety-sensitive position.

In a 2018 arbitration decision, Arbitrator Roil dealt with this very question of how to accommodate an employee’s medical cannabis use in the construction industry.

International Brotherhood Lower Churchill Transmission Construction Employers’ Assn. Inc. and IBEW, Local 1620 (Tizzard)

Facts

The Lower Churchill Project involves the development of a hydroelectric facility and related infrastructure in order to carry power to consumers. Numerous contractors were responsible for construction of the transmission lines in what is known as “the Project.” One major contractor was Valard Construction LP ( “Valard”).

In 2016, Mr. Tizzard applied for a labourer job and was accepted for employment, subject to a satisfactory drug and alcohol test – a normal requirement for work at the Project. Mr. Tizzard has a prescription for the use of cannabis for the management of pain arising from osteoarthritis and Crohn’s disease. He is permitted to consume up to 1.5 grams of cannabis with a THC level of 22%, which he consumes by vaporization each evening. Mr. Tizzard informed the Union about his cannabis authorization which requested that his doctor fill out a questionnaire. When Mr. Tizzard’s doctor had finally done so, the original position Mr. Tizzard had applied for had been cancelled.

In February 2017, Mr. Tizzard applied for the position of Assembler, but he was turned down for this position and it was requested by Valard that he see a Substance Abuse Specialist. Despite clarifying that he had a prescription and not an addiction, Mr. Tizzard became frustrated as he needed employment and stopped taking his medical cannabis for 5 weeks so that the THC would clear from his body. He was hired by another subcontractor to The Project as a general labourer. However, at the last minute, Mr. Tizzard received a call in which he was told not to report for work. According to Mr. Tizzard, he had been “red-flagged” due to his medical cannabis use and nobody was allowed to hire him to work on The Project.

The Law

Ontario’s Human Rights Code is not like other laws – it is considered “quasi-constitutional,” meaning that it prevails over all other provincial legislation. It is to be interpreted broadly, and its protections apply even in the pre-hiring stage. For example, a job applicant’s needs related to Code grounds must be accommodated for any part of the hiring process. The hiring process must be fair and employers cannot screen out applicants based on any protected grounds.

During the employment relationship, an employer has the duty to accommodate an employee’s disability up to the point of undue hardship. Courts have held that assumption of some risk in the workplace is acceptable within the accommodation process. Therefore, in accommodating a person with a disability, it is not required that all risk be eliminated from that person’s work.

Further, each person with a disability must be considered, assessed, and accommodated individually. Such individualized accommodation has been referred to as the essence of accommodating people with disabilities. Any inquiry into accommodating a worker with a disability in a unionized environment entails a search of the various possible work options available for that worker. The employer has the primary obligation to consider accommodation but the union also plays a role.

Arbitrator’s Reasoning

In deciding whether Valard had failed to accommodate Mr. Tizzard’s disability by not providing him with employment, the arbitrator first assessed the labour positions of Utility Worker and Assembler, concluding that both were safety-sensitive and inherently hazardous for all those who attend the various job sites for The Project.

Since all positions were safety-sensitive, the arbitrator had to decide whether Mr. Tizzard could work in one of these safety-sensitive positions while consuming medical cannabis.

The Arbitrator reviewed medical and pharmacological evidence including medical literature and guiding documents from Health Canada, the College of Family Physicians of Canada, and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Newfoundland and Labrador. He also reviewed a report by the Task Force set up to advise the Federal Government on cannabis legalization for the most recent independent information available about the measurement of impairment from the use of cannabinoids. Based on his review of these documents, and evidence from specialized witnesses, the Arbitrator reached the following conclusions:

  1. The regular use of medically-authorized cannabis products can cause impairment of a worker in a workplace environment. The length of cognitive impairment can exceed simply the passage of 4 hours after ingestion. Impairment can sometimes exist for up to 24 hours after use.
  2. Persons consuming medical cannabis in the evening may sincerely believe that they are not impaired in their subsequent daily functioning; they can, however, experience residual impairment beyond the shortest suggested time limits. The lack of awareness or real insight into one’s functional impairment can be a consequence of cannabis use. In that context, a person may not experience ‘euphoria’ (as mentioned in the Health Canada Guidance), yet still not function, respond or react normally while impaired by cannabis use.
  3. A general practicing physician is not in a position to adequately determine, simply grounded on visual inspection of the patient in a clinic and a basic understanding of patient’s work, the daily safety issues in a hazardous workplace. Specialized training in understanding workplace hazards is necessary to fully understand the interaction between cannabis impairment and appropriate work restrictions in a given fact situation.
  4. There currently are no readily available testing resources within the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador to allow an employer to adequately and accurately measure impairment arising from cannabis use on a daily or other regular basis.

Decision

The Arbitrator concluded that Mr. Tizzard’s impairment posed a safety hazard as there is currently no effective or practical way to measure his impairment from evening cannabis use. Further, he found that the safety hazard introduced by residual impairment could not be ameliorated by monitoring or remedial processes. Therefore, the Arbitrator erred on the side of caution and held that hiring Mr. Tizzard would amount to undue hardship for Valard.

Takeaway

This decision may provide some clarity as to the laws surrounding accommodating employees who use medical marijuana in safety-sensitive workplaces. Although the threshold of  undue hardship is a tough one to meet, in safety-sensitive workplaces where alternative positions are not available or residual effects of impairment cannot be ameliorated, other decision makers may also err on the side of caution as was done here.

For more information on whether accommodating an employee with a disability may amount to undue hardship in your workplace, contact an employment lawyer at MacLeod Law Firm. You can reach us at [email protected] or 647-204-8107.

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.

Investigating Workplace Harassment Complaints: Get Ready for Changes to the OHSA

By , July 26, 2016 7:20 am

“Bob is harassing me.”

Your spidey senses should be tingling. Because some kind of investigation should be taking place soon. If not, consider what happened when an employee at CBC complained about Jian Ghomeshi and was ignored or when an employee at the TO2015 Pan American games complained about David Peterson and her complaint was allegedly not taken seriously.

Immediately after you are told about Bob the alleged harasser you should determine whether the person is alleging workplace harassment.

Under the Ontario Human Rights Code (the “Code”) harassment on any of the 16 prohibited grounds (like sex and race) is defined as engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome.

Effective September 8, 2016, workplace harassment under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (the “OHSA”) will be defined as (a) engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome, or (b) workplace sexual harassment.

An employee who has been harassed within the meaning of the Code can obtain damages from her employer from the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal or from the Ontario Courts. An employee who complains he has been harassed under the OHSA cannot claim damages.

Sexual Harassment: A Special Kind of Harassment

For reasons that I do not understand, the Ontario government has decreed that effective September 8, 2016 an employee who has been sexually harassed at work can file a complaint under the Code or under OHSA. Accordingly, an employee who has been sexually harassed will thereafter be able to commence legal proceedings in at least 3 legal fora; namely;

1. An application under the Code

The Code prohibits sexual harassment in employment and a person can file an application under the Code seeking damages. In a 2015 decision an adjudicator under the Code awarded a former employee who had been sexually harassed $ 150 000 in general damages.

2. A complaint under the OHSA

An employee can file a complaint and the employer must investigate the complaint and inform the person of the results of the investigation. The only obligation is to investigate and report back to the person.

3. An action in Ontario’s Superior Court

An employee can sue for damages for a breach of the Code and/or for damages for the tort of sexual assault. In a 2015 decision a judge awarded a former employee over $ 300 000 damages in connection with sexual harassment/assault in the workplace.

Lessons to Be learned

1. Make sure you have a written policy to investigate workplace harassment complaints in place by September 8, 2016. For information about our fixed fee service, click here.

2. Sexual harassment complaints can be more legally complicated than other kinds of harassment complaints.

3. Investigate all workplace harassment complaints quickly and tailor the investigation to the circumstances of the case. This includes: deciding whether to use an internal or external investigator; whether to permit employees to bring legal representation to meetings; whether the investigator can make recommendations; whether to write a report; whether to release a formal report (if one is prepared) to the parties, etc. Not all investigations need to be treated the same.

For over 25 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 at 416 317-9894 or at [email protected]

“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.”

Restaurant who refuses to serve customer with a service dog ordered to pay $ 2500 in general damages

By , May 31, 2016 9:59 am

Obligations to Train Employees On Human Rights Issues

We often represent employers and employees who have human rights issues. It is a rather complex area of the law, especially cases involving individuals with disabilities. For more blogs on the rights of disabled employees, click here.

An employer has obligations towards disabled employees under the Ontario Human Rights Code (the “Code”) and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act  (“AODA”) including mandatory training. For more information on an employer’s obligations under AODA, click here.

A recent case illustrates what can happen if an employer doesn’t properly train its employees on human rights issues.

The Facts of the Case

An autistic person, his mother and a service dog were refused service at a restaurant because they wanted the service dog to accompany them. The mother called the police who advised that they could not intervene. The police suggested they call the municipality but they were advised that the municipality could also not intervene and referred them to the Human Rights Legal Support Centre which said they did not have the resources to intervene in the immediate situation, but told them how to file an Application. After calling these places and getting no assistance, they left the restaurant and filed an application under the Code four days later.

The Law

The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (the “Tribunal”) found that autism spectrum disorder is a “disability” within the meaning of the Code

The Tribunal concluded the restaurant did not accommodate the son’s disability and in this regard quoted a section of a regulation under AODA, which states: “If a person with a disability is accompanied by a guide dog or other service animal, the provider of goods or services shall ensure that the person is permitted to enter the premises with the animal and to keep the animal with him or her unless the animal is otherwise excluded by law from the premises.”

The responsibility for ensuring that servers are properly trained and aware of the obligations of a service provider rests with the employer and not the employee. Any liability for discrimination done by an employee in the course of the employee’s employment that results in a breach of the Code is that of the employer.

The Decision

The restaurant violated the autistic person’s right to be free from discrimination because of a disability by refusing to permit his service dog to enter the restaurant.

The restaurant was ordered to retain at its cost an expert in human rights to develop a human rights policy.

The restaurant was ordered to pay the son $2,500 as compensation for injury to dignity, feelings, and self-respect. This case can be contrasted to an earlier decision where a person with a service dog was denied access to a mall for about 5 minutes and was awarded $ 1000 in damages because a mall employee did not understand his right to bring the service dog into the mall. For more information on this case, click here.

Lessons to be Learned:

  1. Many employers have a positive obligation to train employees on human rights issues, particularly under AODA. Failure to train employees can result in an employer being ordered to pay for an employee’s unfamiliarity with the law.
  1. Employers who offer services to the public, like restaurants, are particularly susceptible to human rights claims. Many members of the disabled community are aware of their rights and will enforce them. In this case, the mother told the restaurant staff that her son had the right to bring a service dog into the restaurant before she and her son were denied service.
  1. Employers should participate in the application process under the Code. In this case, the restaurant did not send a representative to the hearing. It is possible that because the adjudicator did not hear both sides of the story the damage award was higher than it would have been otherwise.

For over 25 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 at 416 317-9894 or at [email protected]

“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.”

Disability Insurance and the Uncooperative Employee

By , April 13, 2016 10:00 am

Do you have an employee who is absent because of a medical issue, but will not provide the necessary paperwork to a third-party disability insurance provider? We often get calls from frustrated employers who are unsure how to proceed when such a situation arises. A 2015 case from the Ontario Superior Court offers employers some direction.

Betts v IBM Canada Ltd., 2015 ONSC 5298

Mr. Betts began working for IBM in 1999. In 2008, he began to suffer from a major recurring depressive and anxiety disorder for which he took medication and received therapy. He had two major depressive episodes, one in 2008/ 2009 and one in 2013/ 2014. In 2008/2009, he went off on short-term disability and completed all the necessary paperwork to do so. In mid-October 2013, Mr. Betts stopped attending work. Despite receiving instructions to complete the necessary forms by November 5, 2013, Mr. Betts failed to do so.

Between December 2013 and June 2014, IBM sent Mr. Betts five letters which outlined his options in the face of his refusal and/or inability to comply with the short-term disability plan requirements. He was advised that he would be considered to have voluntarily resigned if he did not undertake one of the available options. He continued to provide incomplete information.  In the final letter sent on May 15, 2014, IBM advised that he had until June 9, 2014 to submit additional information for his second and final appeal. He once again failed to submit the necessary information. He emailed IBM advising that he would not be returning because “his doctor’s not still applied.” The doctor’s note, as he had been advised, did not comply with the physician requirements of the disability plan.  On June 30, 2015, IBM considered Mr. Bett to have voluntary left his position. Mr. Betts sued for wrongful dismissal, but the Courts agreed with IBM stating “[i]t is difficult to imagine what more the defendant could have done during the plaintiff’s 8 month absence…”

Lessons for Employers

  1. Maintain open and clear communication with the employee. Be sure to advise the employee in writing of his or her obligations and what the consequence will be for failing to comply.
  2. Give the employee multiple warnings and opportunities to adequately comply. Although this can extend the timeframe of an unapproved absence, it helps demonstrate that the employer did everything that it could to assist the employee to comply and a finding of abandonment is more likely.
  3. Keep in mind that as an employer, you still have a duty to accommodate to the point of undue hardship under the Human Rights Code. Just because a third-party insurance provider denies a claim, it does not necessarily mean that there is not a means by which the employee can be accommodate. The case described above did not address any Human Rights Code.

If you have any questions about an employee taking medical leaves of absences and your duties as an employer, please contact us at [email protected] or 647-204-8107 and one of our lawyers would be happy to speak to you.

“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.”

The Duty to Accommodate – How far is too far?

By , February 29, 2016 11:02 am

We get calls from employer clients who are exasperated because a disabled employee has made what the employer considers to be an unreasonable request. However, it is important as an employer that you seriously consider all requests for accommodation because if you don’t you could end up in legal hot water. This blog is about an employee who requested her employer accommodate her by moving her to another building because a co-worker caused her stress.

Duty to Accommodate

An employer has a duty to accommodate a disabled employee unless the employee is incapable of performing the essential job duties or requirements. To prove that the employee is incapable, the employer must show that the needs of the employee cannot be accommodated without undue hardship.

Emond v. Treasury Board (Parole Board of Canada)

Ms. Edmond was a long-service employee who had always performed her duties satisfactorily. In or about Fall 2009, she began to have issues with a colleague Mr. X. Her complaints included that he: was loud, swore, broke wind, made strange noises, walked barefoot around the office and washed his feet with vinegar at his desk. On one occassion, he made a threatening comment after she banged on the wall they shared because he was being noisy. His actions made her nervous. She raised her concerns with managers, but never filed a formal harassment complaint. The employer seemed to believe that this was a personality conflict between co-workers.

In August 2011, after Mr. X filed a harassment complaint against her, the employee commenced sick leave. The employee’s family doctor concluded that she was afraid of Mr. X and suffering from “emotional stress” which impaired her concentration. Eventually, her doctor stated that she could return to work if she was allowed to work at another building away from Mr. X. The Employer offered to move her to another floor, but that was not enough according to the employee and her doctor as she could still run into Mr. X.

The adjudicator concluded that employer failed to accommodate the employee. She ordered that the employer move the employee to another building located in Ottawa and compensate the employee for the difference between what she received while on long-term disability and her salary.

Lessons for Employers:

  1. Don’t be hasty in dismissing an employee’s complaint which appears on the surface as a personality conflict with another colleague or manager.
  2. Just because the requested accommodation is inconvenient doesn’t mean the company doesn’t have to do it. In her decision, the adjudicator specifically mentioned that the employer did not satisfy her that the employee needed to work out of the building to which she was assigned.
  3. Suggest, or require (if permissible), that the employee to obtain a second opinion from a third party medical professional if his/her accommodation request seems unreasonable
    In her decision, the adjudicator relied heavily on the employee’s family doctor’s recommendation that she needed to work out of a different building. The employee’s diagnosis and this recommendation was not contradicted by any second opinion, which was noted by the adjudicator.

If you have any questions about your obligations to accommodate employees with disabilities, one of our lawyers would be happy to speak with you. Please call 647-204-8107 or email [email protected]

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