Human Rights & Accommodation

With the spread of the novel 2019 coronavirus, employers may face significant disruptions in the workplace.

As of January 30, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency of international concern. Officials from the Public Health Agency of Canada have stated that the risk of a major outbreak in Canada remains low, but has encouraged extra precautionary measures. Two cases in Ontario, and one in British Columbia have been confirmed.

Employers should be aware of the legal framework within which they can prepare, manage, and address developments caused by the spread of this virus.
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In City of Toronto v. CUPE, Local 79, the Ontario Divisional Court reaffirmed that employers may provide less compensation to an employee who works reduced hours due to a disability without violating the Human Rights Code (“Code”). In this case, the employer discontinued its past practice of permitting employees working part-time hours to remain in the full-time bargaining unit. The change meant that the grievor, who worked part-time hours as an accommodation for his disabilities, suffered a reduction in his benefit entitlements. The Court held that the reduction to the grievor’s benefit entitlements was not discriminatory under the Code.
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As we reported in our earlier post, in Merrifield v The Attorney General, 2017 ONSC 1333, the Ontario Superior Court allowed an employee’s claim against his employer and two superiors for the “tort of harassment” and awarded significant damages against the defendants as a consequence. In its decision released today, the Ontario Court of Appeal (“ONCA”) held that there is currently no independent tort of harassment in Ontario, overturning the lower court’s decision. However, the ONCA did not rule out “the development of a properly conceived tort of harassment” that may apply in appropriate contexts.
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The #MeToo and Times Up movements have led to significant cultural shifts and a collective call to action to end sexual harassment and related forms of exploitation. Since many of the high profile allegations involved abuse of power and quid pro quo demands in the context of employment relationships, the impact on employers has been profound.
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To mark International Women’s Day, we’re pleased to share an article from our US colleagues on recent efforts to close the gender pay gap, including salary history bans in the US and global efforts toward transparency reporting. The article, authored by Todd BoyerCaroline Burnett and Elizabeth Ebersole, can be accessed here.

To ring in the New Year, we highlight the ten most significant developments in Canadian labour and employment law in 2018.
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One of the clearest messages from the #MeToo movement has been that sexual harassers need to be held accountable for their actions. This message has resonated with employers and most now appreciate that they need to promptly investigate and appropriately address misconduct once they become aware of it. But employer obligations extend beyond remedial action and include, in Ontario and other jurisdictions, implementing preventative policies and educating employees on the policies.

However, a new US research report indicates that policies aren’t enough and employers need to pay attention to certain warning signs in the workplace to effectively stem sexual harassment. The report’s authors contend that organizational climate is the greatest determinant of sexual harassment occurring in a workplace. In fact, corporate culture can either encourage or discourage an employee to harass, according to the authors.
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The Ontario government has introduced proposed amendments to the province’s regulatory framework for cannabis. If passed, Bill 36, the Cannabis Statute Law Amendment Act, 2018, will alter the newly-introduced Cannabis Act, 2017  (not yet in force) and other provincial legislation to reflect the current government’s plan for dealing with the legalization of recreational cannabis on October 17, 2018.
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Join us on Wednesday, October 17, 2018 for an interactive seminar in our Whitespace Legal Collab in Toronto. Our talented team will share their perspectives and facilitate an exchange of ideas and best practices on hot button issues including:

  • Ensuring the workplace doesn’t go to pot
  • Bill 148: where are we now?
  • Responding to #MeToo