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The Final Word on Dependent Contractors

I wrote last year about the Ontario Superior Court of Justice’s decision in the case of Keenan v. Canac Kitchens (a link to same can be found here:  http://www.employmentandlabour.com/?s=Canac).   Last week the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld the Superior Court’s decision in Canac, and added some additional guidance with respect to the law surrounding dependent contractor relationships.

First, a quick reminder as to the facts of this particular case.  Lawrence and Marilyn Keenan were employed by Canac Kitchens beginning in 1976 and 1983 respectively.  In 1987, both were advised that their employment was coming to an end but that they could carry on as independent contractors.  An independent contractor agreement was signed by Marilyn and the Keenans carried on as before.  They continued working for Canac until the company closed its operations in 2009.  No notice of termination or pay in lieu of notice was provided.

While there were some factors in this case which suggested an independent contractor agreement, the lower court was particularly fixated on the fact that the Keenans worked exclusively for Canac until 2007.  Although they did some small amount of work for a competitor named Cartier between 2007 and 2009 due to a shortage of work at Canac, the judge accepted that Canac turned a blind eye to same.  In other words, for all intents and purposes the Keenans provided services only to Canac for almost the entire duration of the relationship.  Moreover, Canac had almost complete control of the work performed by the Keenans.

As a result, the Superior Court found that although the Keenans were contractors, they were in a dependent relationship to Canac and therefore entitled to notice of termination.  Due to the 32 and 25 years of service provided by Lawrence and Marilyn respectively (which resulted in an average length of service of 28.5 years between the two of them), the court found that a whopping 26 month notice period was reasonable.

Canac contended that the trial judge erred: (i) in finding that the Keenans were in an exclusive relationship with Canac; and (ii) in awarding 26 months of notice.  The Ontario Court of Appeal determined that while the Keenans performed some work for Cartier, the substantial majority of their work was for Canac.  More specifically, of the approximately 32 and 25 years of service which Lawrence and Marilyn gave to Canac, all but two were exclusively in the service of Canac.  The court further stated that the full history of the working relationship between the parties must be examined, and not just a snapshot at the time of termination.

In addition, the Court found that because of the age and length of service of the Keenans, the fact that for over a generation they were Canac’s public face to the outside world, and the fact that their income had come from Canac during the entirety of their working lives, an award in excess of 24 months was justified and the trial judge’s finding for a 26 month notice period was reasonable.

A copy of the Court of Appeal’s decision in Keenan v. Canac Kitchens may be found here:  http://www.ontariocourts.ca/decisions/2016/2016ONCA0079.htm.

The Final Word on Dependent Contractors

ORPP: Additional Design Details Released

On January 26, 2016, additional design details of the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan (ORPP) were released by the Ontario government.  The government reconfirmed its commitment to implement the ORPP beginning January 1, 2017, ensuring that by 2020, every eligible employee in Ontario will be part of the ORPP or a comparable workplace pension plan.

The following is a summary of the additional design details.  Stay tuned for further postings which will put the details into context and discuss the implications for employers.

What employers should know: 

  • Contributions: ORPP contributions will be based on an employee’s pensionable earnings between $3,500 and $90,000, and will include cash and non-cash earnings and amounts beyond base salary such as bonuses and commissions.   
  • Definition of employment in Ontario: A person will be considered employed in Ontario for ORPP membership purposes if he or she:
    • is required to report to work at an establishment of the employer in Ontario, or
    • is not required to report to work at an employer’s Ontario establishment but is paid by the employing establishment in Ontario.
  • Comparability test:  Employers and employees in Ontario will be required to participate in the ORPP unless they participate in a comparable pension plan, subject to certain exceptions.  For information on the comparability tests, please see our August 12, 2015 posting.  The government has since released the following additional details relating to the comparability test:
    • Subset level: For pension plans with more than one group of employees (e.g. full- and part-time, union and non-union, etc.) and different benefit formulas for groups or “subsets” of employees, the comparability test will apply at the group or “subset” level.
    • Voluntary contributions: Voluntary contributions to a defined contribution pension plan will not be taken into account when determining if the plan is comparable to the ORPP.  Contributions to a defined contribution pension plan must be mandatory in order for them to be included in the comparability test.
    • Multi-Employer Pension Plans (MEPPs): The comparability test for a MEPP will be applied separately for each participating employer based on the employer’s collective bargaining agreements or employee agreements at the subset level, as defined by plan governing documents.  Employers will have the option to assess comparability using the defined benefit accrual or defined contribution rate threshold.
  • Waiting periods: Employees waiting to join their employer’s comparable pension plan will be required to participate in the ORPP during the waiting period.
  • Employer opt-in: Employers with a “comparable workplace pension plan” can opt-in to the ORPP on or after January 1, 2020.
  • Non-resident workers: Non-resident workers (for tax purposes) earning income over $3,500 that is subject to Canadian and Ontario income tax will be included in the ORPP.  However, if a non-resident worker is exempt from tax under an applicable tax treaty between Canada and another country, they will be exempt from participating in the ORPP.
  • Other workers: Individuals in receipt of ORPP benefits may opt-in to the ORPP if they return to eligible employment.  There will also be religious exemptions for certain workers, similar to the Canada Pension Plan (CPP).

ORPP benefits for employees:

  • Benefit formula: ORPP benefits will accrue at a rate of 0.375% of annual earnings per year and will be calculated using members’ average earnings over their career.  The ORPP is designed to provide a 15% income replacement rate to members who participate for over 40 years.
  • Payment of benefits: The ORPP will begin paying benefits starting in 2022.  Members will be eligible for retirement under the ORPP as early as age 60, and may postpone retirement until age 71.
  • Indexation: Benefits will be indexed according to average growth of wages and salaries as outlined by Statistics Canada pre-retirement, and indexed according to the Consumer Price Index post-retirement.
  • Pre-retirement survivor benefits: If a member dies before retirement, a lump sum based on the actuarial equivalent value of his/her pension will be paid to an eligible spouse, the member’s beneficiary or estate.
  • Post-retirement survivor benefits: If a member dies after retirement with an eligible spouse, the spouse will receive a survivor benefit equal to 60% of the member’s actuarially adjusted pension.  If the spouse waives his or her right to a survivor pension prior to the member’s retirement, or the member retires without an eligible spouse, the member would receive his or her full retirement pension with a 10-year guarantee period.  If the member dies within that guarantee period, the remaining value of his/her full retirement pension will be paid to his/her spouse, beneficiary or estate as an actuarially equivalent lump sum.

Other details:

  • Plan sustainability: A funding policy has been established for the ORPP to ensure that the plan is sustainable over the long-term.  In addition, the government will establish an Office of the Chief Actuary to conduct triennial valuations of the ORPP and to provide advice and analysis.
  • Plan review and changes: The ORPP will be reviewed five years after its full implementation and subsequent reviews will occur every ten years.  Fundamental changes to the ORPP that would substantially impact member benefits and are not resulting from funding policy adjustments would require the consent of at least 60% of ORPP members.

The Ontario government will set out these and other details about the ORPP in forthcoming legislation.

To read the Ontario government’s technical bulletin regarding these details, click here.  To read our previous ORPP postings, click the links below:

ORPP: Additional Design Details Released

Terminating for Financial Reasons? Don’t Expect the Courts to Help You Out

Employers who undertake reductions in force due to financial difficulties should not count on employee notice periods being reduced as a result of the financial troubles.  This point was recently emphasized by the Ontario Court of Appeal in the decision of Michela v. St. Thomas of Villanova Catholic School.

Michela, Gomes and Carnovale were long-term teachers at St. Thomas of Villanova Catholic School, with 11, 13 and 8 years of service respectively.  All worked under a series of one-year contracts.  In May of 2013, the employer advised each of them in writing that they would not receive a contract renewal for the coming year because enrolment was expected to be lower.  Subsequently, in June of 2013 each of them was provided with a termination letter and advised that notice was not owed because they were employed pursuant to fixed-term contracts.

The claims were dealt with by summary judgment, and the motions judge determined that due to the succession of fixed-term contracts, the employees were really indefinite term employees and entitled to common law notice of termination.  However in determining that the reasonable notice period for each employee should be 6 months rather than the 12 months which was claimed, the judge made reference to the employer’s poor financial position.
In overturning the decision, the Court of Appeal made reference to the Bardal factors used to calculate reasonable notice at common law: the employee’s character of employment, length of service, age, and availability of similar employment having regard to experience, training and qualifications.  The Court found that the motions judge had mistakenly viewed “character of employment” through the lens of the employer rather than the employees, and stated that the financial position of the employer does not factor into the calculation of reasonable notice.  The court confirmed that while an employer’s financial position may be the reason for a termination without cause, the financial position of the employer does not justify a reduction in the notice period in bad times nor an increase when times are good.

For employers considering reductions in force during difficult times, it may be best to consider other options such as a temporary layoffs, ensuring that proper termination provisions are in place which provide only statutory minimums in the event of termination, or the provision of working notice.  While legal advice should be sought in order to ensure the best plan of action, it is clear at the very least that employers should not count on a reduced notice period due to a difficult financial position.

The decision in Michela v. St. Thomas of Villanova Catholic School can be read here:  http://www.ontariocourts.ca/decisions/2015/2015ONCA0801.htm.

Terminating for Financial Reasons? Don’t Expect the Courts to Help You Out

Don’t Let a Human Rights Application Get “Lost in the Mail”

Until recently, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (the “Tribunal”) would deliver a Human Rights Application to whomever the Applicant listed as the Employer’s contact person.  That person, possibly the Applicant’s supervisor or manager, was often not the appropriate person to deal with the Application on behalf of the Employer, leading to delays in the Employer’s ability to respond to the Application.

The Tribunal has taken steps to remedy this problem in its “Practice Direction on Establishing a Regular Contact Person for an Organization”. The new Practice Direction, effective as of November 2015, allows organizations to designate a regular contact person for the delivery of Human Rights Applications. Where such a person has been designated, the Tribunal will rely on that person as the contact for Human Rights Applications, regardless of which person is named as the organizational contact in the Application itself.

If an organization wants to establish a regular contact for the organization, all the organization has to do is send the following information to the Tribunal Registrar:

  • Name and position of the person making the request;
  • The name and contact information of the contact person, including email address if available; and
  • A request that the Tribunal use the named contact person as the organization’s contact in any applications filed with the Tribunal naming the organization.

Should the contact person for the organization change, the organization would be required to contact the Registrar, designate a new contact person and provide his/her contact information.

An organization’s representative is to be distinguished from a personal respondent.  Where individuals are named as personal respondents in Human Rights Applications, they will continue to be treated as parties and served separately from the organization.

The Practice Direction is available at: http://www.sjto.gov.on.ca/hrto/rules-and-practice-directions/

Don’t Let a Human Rights Application Get “Lost in the Mail”

Employee Satisfaction: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure

Satisfaction and Engagement Surveys

Many employers employ quantitative and qualitative tools to measure employee engagement and satisfaction in the workplace. As 2015 draws to a close, and we reflect on the events of the previous year and plan for 2016, workplace engagement and satisfaction surveys can be a useful litmus test for employers seeking to promote a harmonious, productive and satisfied workplace.

Keeping employees happy and engaged can have an important preventative effect with respect to an organization’s legal costs. For example, studies have shown that proactively engaging employees and ensuring a positive work environment can reduce the number of workers’ compensation claims.  With the relatively recent advent of ‘bullying and harassment ‘ provisions in workers compensation legislation nationally, testing the level of satisfaction and engagement can militate against powder keg environments, and can give employers the basis for implementing targeted and useful preventative measures.

In British Columbia, the Workers Compensation Act Occupational Health and Safety Regulations provide that employers have an over-arching duty to “ensure the health and safety of all workers working for that employer”, which, relatively recently, includes a duty to ensure that the working environment is free of bullying and harassment.  Employee engagement and satisfaction surveys, then, can be a useful tool for organizations looking to test the level of, or improve, their compliance.  Furthermore, employees who negatively perceive their working environments may be more inclined towards alleging constructive dismissal, or to allege intentional infliction of mental distress, which can lead to liability for an employer.  Again, measuring employee satisfaction early-on can help to avoid potentially costly situations down the road.

This being said, satisfaction surveys do far more than merely assist an employer in meeting its legal obligations or to help an employer to avoid costly wrongful dismissal actions.  There are a multitude of studies which suggest that happy and engaged employees are more productive, more creative and more profitable for an organization.

Avoiding Pitfalls

Holiday parties are a great way to bring employees together in a way that removes them from the typical rigors of the workplace.  Employees who enjoy each-others’ company in a social setting may forge bonds which create more cohesive and productive teams in the office.

However, each holiday season, many employers face increased legal risk as a result of employer-organized holiday parties where alcohol is consumed. This being said, discrimination claims, harassment claims, and many other HR (and PR!) nightmares may be preventable with a few simple steps.  Of course, every situation is different, but common sense and responsible party-going should rule the day.  Things employers can do to help prevent against holiday-party fall-out include:

  1. As employees enjoy a few eggnogs at the firm party, ensure no one is over-served, and that transportation is available, and has been clearly pointed out to partygoers before and during the event;
  2. Redistribution of the organization’s harassment policies well ahead of any soirees, to serve as a gentle reminder that professional and respectful behaviour is always required regardless of the setting; and
  3. Redistribution of any social media policies, or the creation of such a policy, to ensure that employees are not snapping, and publically disseminating, photos of their co-workers without consent;

These measures, among others, may reduce the likelihood of toxic problems emerging in the workplace that could directly or indirectly result in legal risk exposure for the employer.

Wishing you a safe and joyful holiday season, and a happy and productive 2016!

Employee Satisfaction: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure

Police Records Checks Reform Act, 2015

On December 1, 2015, Ontario passed the Police Record Checks Reform Act, 2015, (the “Act”) which will have concrete implications for the ways in which employers conduct criminal background checks, and the information that will be made available to employers pursuant to these checks.

The Act establishes comprehensive province-wide standards governing the type of information that can be disclosed by police in response to record check inquiries, and is intended to remove unnecessary barriers to employment, suitability to hold a license or office, application to an educational program and participation in volunteer activities. The policy rationale underlying the Act is concerned with preventing the inappropriate disclosure of non-conviction and non-criminal records, such as information obtained from street checks or “carding”, as well as mental health information.

This new legislation creates three categories of record checks, as follows:

• Criminal record checks;
• Criminal record and judicial matters checks; and
• Vulnerable sector checks.

For each of these categories, the Act limits and standardizes the information that may be released by police authorities. From an operational perspective, employers most often rely upon the first category, criminal records checks, as a pre-employment screening tool. Pursuant to section 9 of the Act, the disclosure of “non-conviction information” is now largely prohibited in the context of criminal record checks, with “non-conviction information” being defined as including criminal offences for which an absolute or conditional discharge has been granted, criminal offences for which there are outstanding charges or warrants (i.e. outstanding charges for which no conviction has been entered), court orders made against individuals, and criminal offences that resulted in a finding of “not criminally responsible” on account of mental disorder, among other information.

Because vulnerable sector checks are carried out in contexts where the individual in question will be in a position of trust or authority in relation to vulnerable persons, such as children, the Act permits more extensive disclosure in response to this category of records checks. For instance, each of the types of “non-conviction information” listed above would be disclosed pursuant to a vulnerable sector check, subject to certain temporal and other limits. The Act also permits the “exceptional disclosure” of non-conviction information in relation to a vulnerable sector check where certain conditions are satisfied (see s. 10.1).

In all three categories, convictions for which a pardon has been granted will generally not be disclosed, although there is an exception where disclosure is authorized under the Criminal Records Act (Canada).

Perhaps the most significant implication of the Act is the fact that it requires that the individual about whom requested information relates first receive and have an opportunity to review the information, and then consent to its disclosure (see s. 12). In the event that potentially inappropriate non-conviction information is included in a record, subsection 10(4) of the Act provides that the individual may request a reconsideration of the disclosure. As a result, employers who conduct pre-employment criminal record checks will now only have the results of the checks disclosed to them by authorities where the prospective employee has consented to the disclosure. Employers should therefore familiarize themselves with the Act, and assess its implications for existing pre-employment background check practices.

The Act received Royal Assent on December 3, 2015, and comes into force on the date proclaimed by the Lieutenant Governor. Its full text can be found here.

Police Records Checks Reform Act, 2015

Patently Unreasonable: BC Supreme Court Rejects Human Rights Tribunal’s Landmark Injury to Dignity Award Which Emphasized Professional Status

In 2013 the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal found that the University of British Columbia had discriminated against Dr. Carl Kelly when it dismissed him from its Family Medicine Residency Program. Dr. Kelly was awarded damages, including, significantly, $75,000 for injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect. At the time, the high water-mark for this head of damages was $35,000; this had been the result of relatively incremental increases to damages for injury to dignity over time. The award to Dr. Kelly exceeded this threshold by $40,000.

In the case of Dr. Kelly, the Tribunal held that the circumstances were such that a substantial award was appropriate, relying in part on Dr. Kelly’s life-long dream to be a physician and the humiliation and isolation from his family and friends he experienced as a result of his dismissal.

The University sought Judicial Review of the Tribunal’s decision on both the finding of discrimination and the damages awarded. In particular, the University argued that the Tribunal had put undue emphasis on the fact that Dr. Kelly was a medical resident, and that the award of $75,000 created a bifurcated approach to injury to dignity: one for professionals and one for other employees.

On September 24, 2015, the Court did not interfere with the Tribunal’s findings on the merits, but overturned the award of $75,000 on the basis that it was patently unreasonable.

Mr. Justice Silverman found that the award of $75,000 for injury to dignity put undue emphasis on the fact that Dr. Kelly was engaged in medical training and was denied access to his chosen profession. The Court held that in doing so, the Tribunal was elevating damage awards for complainants in professional occupations relative to other categories of employment. Disagreeing with the Tribunal’s finding that Dr. Kelly’s context was inherently unique, the Court held that the Tribunal’s award was patently unreasonable because there was no principled reason why this particular complainant’s circumstances warranted more than doubling the previous highest award.

Importantly, the Court did not comment on what would have been a reasonable award in the circumstances; rather, it remitted the decision back to the Tribunal for reconsideration. It therefore remains open to the Tribunal to grant Dr. Kelly an award for injury to dignity in excess of $35,000, ensuring this case will continue to attract considerable attention.

Patently Unreasonable: BC Supreme Court Rejects Human Rights Tribunal’s Landmark Injury to Dignity Award Which Emphasized Professional Status

Bill 132: Ontario’s New Sexual Violence and Harassment Legislation

The Ontario Government recently introduced Bill 132, An Act to amend various statutes with respect to sexual violence, sexual harassment, domestic violence and related matters as a response to the Government’s “It’s Never Okay: An Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment” policy statement announced earlier this year.

Bill 132 will amend various existing statutes with respect to sexual violence, sexual harassment, and domestic violence. For employers, important changes will stem from Bill 132’s proposed amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety Act (the “OHSA”), which include modifying the current definition of “workplace harassment” and imposing additional obligations on employers concerning their workplace harassment policies, programs and investigations.

Under Bill 132, the OHSA’s definition of “workplace harassment” will be expanded to include “workplace sexual harassment”, which is defined as:

  1. Engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace because of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, where the course of comment or conduct is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome; or
  2. Making a sexual solicitation or advance where the person making the solicitation or advance is in a position to confer, grant or deny a benefit or advancement to the worker and the person knows or ought reasonably to know that the solicitation or advance is unwelcome.

Notably, Bill 132 also clarifies that a reasonable action taken by an employer or supervisor relating to the management and direction of workers or the workplace is not workplace harassment.

Bill 132 will require an employer’s program to implement a workplace harassment policy under section 32.06(2) of the OHSA to further set out:

  • Measures and procedures for workers to report incidents of workplace harassment to a person other than the employer or supervisor, if the employer or supervisor is the alleged harasser;
  • How incidents or complaints of workplace harassment will be investigated and dealt with;
  • That information obtained about an incident or complaint of workplace harassment, including identifying information about any individuals involved, will not be disclosed unless the disclosure is necessary for the investigation or corrective action, or is required by law; and
  • How a worker who has allegedly experienced workplace harassment and the alleged harasser (if he or she is a worker of the employer) will be informed of the results of the investigation and of any corrective action taken.

An employer will be required to renew its program at least annually and provide its workers with appropriate information and instruction on the contents of both the policy and program.

When faced with a “workplace harassment” incident or complaint, under Bill 132 an employer will be required to ensure that an appropriate investigation is conducted and that both the worker who has allegedly experienced harassment and the alleged harasser (if s/he is a worker of the employer) are informed of the results and of any corrective action that has been, or will be, taken. Notably, Bill 132 will allow an inspector to order an employer to have an investigation and report completed by an impartial third-party, at the employer’s expense.

Bill 132 passed first reading on October 27, 2015. If passed, the provisions of Bill 132 relating to the OHSA will come into force either six months after receiving Royal Assent or on July 1, 2016, whichever is the later date.

The Bill can be found here. A press release from the Ontario Government announcing Bill 132 can be found here

Bill 132: Ontario’s New Sexual Violence and Harassment Legislation

ORPP: What’s next now that the election is over

With a new federal Liberal government coming into office on November 4, 2015, what does this mean for the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan (ORPP)?  That’s the question on the minds of many employers and workers in Ontario.

As part of its campaign platform, the federal Liberals promised to work with the provinces and territories, workers, employers, and retiree organizations to enhance the Canada Pension Plan (CPP).  Now that they’ve won a majority government, CPP expansion is back on the table.  This could mean higher employer and employee contributions and also higher CPP benefits for retirees.  As a result, it’s possible that the ORPP will be put on hold.  Ontario’s Premier Wynne has always stated that expanding the CPP was her first choice; the ORPP was a response to the federal Conservative party’s refusal to do so.

What can we expect in the coming months?

Justin Trudeau, the prime minister-designate, has committed to begin talks with the provinces on how to improve the CPP within three months of taking office, so it’s likely that a meeting of the federal and provincial finance ministers will be scheduled in the near future.  But don’t expect the CPP to be expanded any time soon.  Consent among at least 2/3rds of the provinces, having in the aggregate at least 2/3rds of the population of all of the provinces, is required before any changes can be made.  It could take years to obtain this level of agreement.

Prior to the election, Premier Wynne suggested that she would be willing to drop the idea of a provincial pension plan if the federal Liberals win.  However, she recently stated that until the federal Liberals make good on their pledge to enhance the CPP, she would continue with her plan for the ORPP.

For the time being, it seems that the Ontario government will stay on course to establish the ORPP by the 2017 deadline.  This will be an easier task now, as we can expect support from the federal government to help implement the plan.

What should employers do?

All Canadian employers should be aware of, and monitor, possible proposed changes to the CPP in order to assess the potential impacts to its organization.  In addition, employers with Ontario employees should continue to review and assess their retirement savings arrangements and determine whether changes should be made, keeping in mind that the ORPP is, for now, required to be in place by January 1, 2017.

For more information on the ORPP and how the proposed plan will work, click here to read our previous postings:

ORPP: What’s next now that the election is over

Sexist Comments in Blog Post by Union President not Discrimination “With Respect to Employment”

In Taylor-Baptiste v. Ontario Public Service Employees Union, the Ontario Court of Appeal was faced with the question of whether sexist and offensive posts on a blog created by a union member to discuss workplace issues amounted to discrimination “with respect to employment” contrary to s. 5(1) of the Human Rights Code (the “Code”).

The appellant, Mariann Taylor-Baptiste and the individual respondent, Jeff Dvorak, both worked at the Toronto Jail. Ms. Taylor-Baptiste was Mr. Dvorak’s manager, and Mr. Dvorak was the president of the jail’s local branch of the respondent union, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (“OPSEU”). Mr. Dvorak operated a blog about union matters. During a period of labour unrest in early 2009, Mr. Dvorak authored a blog post, and approved the posting of a comment written by another worker, that accused Ms. Taylor-Baptiste of, among other things, nepotism (suggesting she only obtained her position because of her relationship with her boyfriend) and incompetence. Ms. Taylor-Baptiste brought an application to the Human Rights Tribunal (the “Tribunal”), alleging discrimination “with respect to employment” contrary to s. 5(1) of the Code and harassment “in the workplace” contrary to s. 5(2) of the Code.

The Tribunal found that although postings on blogs can form part of or an extension of the workplace and the postings were sexist and offensive, these particular blog posts did not amount to harassment “in the workplace” contrary to s. 5(2) of the Code. This finding was not challenged on appeal to the Court of Appeal. With respect to the allegation of discrimination “with respect to employment”, the Tribunal considered that the comments were made by Mr. Dvorak “in the course of his duties as a … union president”, and therefore his comments enjoyed the protection of the rights of freedom of expression and freedom of association guaranteed by ss. 2(b) and (d) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom (the “Charter”). As a result, the Tribunal found that the blog posts did not contravene either section of the Code. At the request of Ms. Taylor-Baptiste, the Tribunal reconsidered its decision and upheld the initial decision.

The Divisional Court dismissed Ms. Taylor-Baptiste’s application for judicial review, holding that the Tribunal’s decision was reasonable.

Ms. Taylor-Baptiste appealed to the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal considered whether the Divisional Court properly applied the reasonableness standard to the Tribunal’s decision that the blog posts did not infringe her right to equal treatment “with respect to employment” without discrimination under s. 5(1) of the Code.

The Court of Appeal found that the Tribunal was entitled to take into account Charter values within its scope of expertise, and that interpreting the meaning of the words “with respect to employment” in s. 5(1) of the Code fell within the very core of the Tribunal’s expertise. The Court of Appeal also found that the Tribunal properly identified freedom of expression and freedom of association as relevant Charter rights in regard to the circumstances of this case. Section 2(b) of the Charter (freedom of expression) protects a broad range of expressive activity, including “distasteful” expression, so long as it does not reach the point of violent expression or is not, for example, hate speech. Freedom of association, on the other hand, was relevant because the blog posts dealt with union-management relations and were related to union issues, notwithstanding the sexist language. [In fact, the Supreme Court has held that expressive activity in the labour context is directly related to the Charter-protected right of workers to associate to further workplace goals under s. 2(d) of the Charter.]

The Court of Appeal then considered whether the Tribunal properly balanced the relevant Charter values with the objective of the Code. The Court of Appeal found that the Tribunal appropriately balanced the statutory objective of protecting of Ms. Taylor-Baptiste from a poisoned work environment against the Charter rights of freedom of expression and freedom of association. Based on the foregoing reasons, the Court of Appeal concluded that the Tribunal’s decision was reasonable, and upheld the dismissal of Ms. Taylor-Baptiste’s Application.

The implications of this decision remain to be seen, but it is important to note that the Court of Appeal was careful to state that its decision applied only to the facts at hand, and that it was not creating a “blanket exemption” protecting all forms of union speech from the requirements of s. 5 of the Code.

 

Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario: Taylor-Baptiste v. Ontario Public Service Employees Union, 2012 HRTO 1393 (CanLII).

Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (Reconsideration Decision): Taylor-Baptiste v. Ontario Public Service Employees Union, 2013 HRTO 180 (CanLII).

Divisional Court: Taylor-Baptiste v. O.P.S.E.U., 2014 ONSC 2169 (CanLII).

Court of Appeal: Taylor-Baptiste v. Ontario Public Service Employees Union, 2015 ONCA 495 (CanLII).

Sexist Comments in Blog Post by Union President not Discrimination “With Respect to Employment”