Occupational Health & Safety

The range of potential sanctions under Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act are vast and, on its surface, potentially ominous for even the most minor of OHSA infractions. Companies in non-compliance with a health or safety requirement are seemingly at the mercy of the Ministry as to whether they prosecute (in addition to orders and penalties) and, if so, whether they pursue fines or even (gulp) incarceration.

Whereas the range of fines for various types of breaches and resulting harms are somewhat predictable, the circumstances where a Court will take the extraordinary step of ordering jail time has been somewhat of a black box. The recent decision from the Ontario Court of Appeal, Ontario (Labour) v. New Mex Canada Inc., may have changed this.
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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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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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Earlier this year, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) refused the union’s leave application in Suncor Energy Inc v Unifor Local 707A, 2017 ABCA 313 (Suncor ) thereby leaving the Alberta Court of Appeal’s (ABCA) ruling intact. The ABCA had held that evidence of substance-related safety risks across an employer’s workforce (including both union and non-union workers) may be taken into account when assessing the permissibility of random testing of unionized workers.

Suncor  is a favourable result for employers because it is in step with taking a holistic approach to workplace safety. But it is by no means a green light for drug and alcohol testing in the workplace. With the legalization of recreational use of cannabis fast approaching, we outline the current state of the law and key best practices for workplace impairment testing.
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Recreational cannabis is very much in the spotlight as the date for legalization approaches. Yet issues related to employee use of medical cannabis are still front and centre for many employers, as demonstrated by a pair of recent arbitration decisions: Re IBEW, Local 1620 and Lower Churchill Transmission Construction Employers Assn. Inc. (Uprichard) (2017), 281 LAC (4th) 246 (“Lower Churchill 1”) and Re Lower Churchill Transmission Construction Employers Assn. Inc. and IBEW, Local 1620 (Tizzard) 2018 Carswell Nfld 198 (“Lower Churchill 2”).
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This is the final article in our three-part series on recent changes to Alberta’s labour and employment legislation. Here we outline changes to Alberta’s occupational health and safety (“OHS”) and workers’ compensation legislation resulting from Bill 30: An Act to Protect the Health and Well-being of Working Albertans.
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To ring in the New Year, we highlight the ten most significant developments in Canadian labour and employment law in 2017:
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The date set for the legalization of marijuana in Canada is now just over 7 months away. With legalization looming and the holiday season upon us, it is now more important than ever for employers to take proactive steps to respond to the changing legal and social landscape.
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Ontario’s Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017 (“Bill 148”) passed its third reading on November 22, 2017, confirming that many significant changes to Ontario’s labour and employment legislation are imminent.

Most of these changes were summarized in our last Bill 148 article (see here).  However, the following significant changes were made to Bill 148 since our last post:

  • Family Medical Leave will now be extended to 28 weeks, and will apply to all critically ill family members, not just children.
  • The first five days of Domestic or Sexual Violence Leave will now be paid.
  • Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, an employer shall not require a worker to wear footwear with an elevated heel unless it is required for the worker to perform his or her work safely (subject to certain exceptions).


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