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Extension of Parental Benefits – What About the Leave?

The Federal government announced in the budget that it intends to “stretch” employment insurance (“EI”) parental leave benefits to up to 18 months at a lower benefit rate of 33% of average weekly earnings (find that announcement here, at page 65).  That raises the question:  what is the employer’s obligation to hold a person’s job and reinstate the employee who wants to take the longer leave?  Is there an obligation to now have the same/comparable position to return to after the 18 months?

For provincially regulated employers, the short answer at this point is “unknown”.  Except in Quebec (which has its own parental insurance plan and is therefore unaffected by the federal changes), EI benefits are payable under the ‎federal Employment Insurance Act, so employees receive EI benefits (including maternity benefits) under that legislation. The right to a pregnancy/parental leave, and the right to reinstatement, arise under the provincial legislation (in Ontario, the Employment Standards Act).

Since benefits are determined under the ‎EI Act, but the right to a leave (and reinstatement) are entitlements granted by virtue of the provincial legislation, an increase in the length of benefit entitlement does not automatically mean an increase in the length of the leave entitlement.  The provincial governments are likely studying this and may change the provincial legislation to make the leave entitlement correspond to the extended benefit entitlement, but perhaps not. We’ll have to wait and see what the provinces do with the new federal EI rules.

For federally regulated employers, the Federal government plans to amend the Canada Labour Code to protect the jobs of federally regulated employees while they are receiving the extended parental leave benefits.

In the meantime, employers should keep an eye on this issue.  In particular if an EI top-up plan is in place in the workplace, employers should consider now how these changes will affect the plan, and whether amendments to the plan are needed in light of these changes.

 

Extension of Parental Benefits – What About the Leave?

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”

“You quit!” “No I Didn’t, I’m Sick!”

In Betts v. IBM Canada Ltd., the Court was faced with a dispute between Mr. Betts, who claimed he was legitimately absent from his employment due to illness, and his employer IBM, which claimed that Mr. Betts effectively resigned by not returning to work after his application for short-term disability (“STD”) benefits was declined.

Mr. Betts had been employed with IBM for approximately 15 years, most recently in New Brunswick.  During his employment, he had had absences in the past for depression and anxiety, for which he had received STD benefits from IBM.

In October 2013, Mr. Betts stopped reporting for work, claiming he was disabled due to illness, being a further incident of depression and anxiety.  Shortly thereafter, without informing IBM, he moved to Ontario to live with his girlfriend.  His move contravened IBM’s STD policy, which required approval of the third party STD adjudicator before a move away from the employee’s usual place of residence during illness.

Mr. Betts failed to submit medical information by the deadline as stated in the Plan.  Ultimately, Mr. Betts submitted notes from a psychotherapist located in Mississauga, but again this contravened the terms of the Plan, which required that medical information be submitted from a registered physician (which the psychotherapist was not).  As a result, Mr. Betts’ claim for STD was declined, and on December 2, 2013, IBM wrote to Mr. Betts, advising him that he would have to either return to work or submit medical documentation to substantiate his appeal.

This pattern continued, with Mr. Betts submitting several appeals with further documentation from his psychotherapist, but without submitting documents from a registered physician.  Each time, IBM wrote to Mr. Betts to advise him that if he failed to submit the necessary medical documentation to support an appeal, he would have to either return to work or be considered to have voluntarily resigned.

IBM even extended the time for appealing, and after Mr. Betts complained that his manager was harassing him, assigned him a new manager.  Still Mr. Betts did not provide a note from a physician, and failed to return to work, despite IBM’s warnings that failure to do so would result in his deemed resignation.  Ultimately, Mr. Betts exhausted all levels of appeals, but refused to return to work, claiming that the note from the psychotherapist justified his continued absence.  IBM proceeded to end his employment, claiming abandonment.

The Court first cited the recognized test for determining resignation/abandonment, as follows:

Do the statements or actions of the employee, viewed objectively by a reasonable person, clearly and unequivocally indicate an intention to no longer be bound by the employment contract.

In cases of claimed abandonment, this is often an extremely difficult hurdle for an employer to meet.

Although the Court accepted that Mr. Betts suffered from depression and anxiety disorders, the Court also recognized that an employee suffering from medical issues is “not immune from being found to have abandoned his/her employment”.  The Court ultimately held that Mr. Betts was well aware of what was required of him, and that IBM made clear that the consequences of non-compliance would be loss of employment.  As such, notwithstanding that Mr. Betts argued that he did not intend to give up his employment, the Court held that the facts demonstrated that Mr. Betts had no real intention to return to work.  Mr. Betts’ undisclosed move to Ontario clearly factored into the Court’s analysis.

The Court specifically rejected the argument that IBM was under an independent duty to accommodate Mr. Betts over and above the terms of the Plan, and held that IBM was under no obligation to provide Mr. Betts with a leave of absence while it independently assessed Mr. Betts’ claim by retaining an independent physician to assess him.  Since Mr. Betts had not produced a note from a doctor as required by the terms of the Plan, IBM had no obligation to undertake such steps.

Since IBM’s expectations were clear and reasonable and IBM provided ample time and opportunity for Mr. Betts to comply, coupled with Mr. Betts’ failure to provide a reasonable explanation for failing to comply, the Court held that Mr. Betts had in fact abandoned his employment.

This case is a good example of how to proceed with an uncooperative employee.  At every turn, IBM was clear in its expectations, patient (and even generous) when dealing with time lines and “bent over backwards” to assist Mr. Betts.  IBM only proceeded with ending the employment relationship after its clear instructions were ignored, it provided Mr. Betts with ample warnings of the consequences of failing to comply, and it responded to his concerns about the workplace.  For employers dealing with such employees, this case is a good road map for successfully managing the relationship.

Betts v. IBM Canada Ltd., 2015 ONSC 5298

“You quit!” “No I Didn’t, I’m Sick!”

On the Radar Screen: the Stronger Workplaces for a Stronger Economy Act, 2014

As we reported in a previous blog post that can be found here, the Stronger Workplaces for a Stronger Economy Act, 2014 makes some significant changes to several Ontario statutes.  The legislation received Royal Assent on November 20, 2014 and a copy can be found here, but the significant changes include the following:

1. Starting on October 1, 2015, it provides for increases (but not decreases) to the minimum wage under the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (the “ESA”) based on the Ontario Consumer Price Index. The CPI will be announced by April of each year, with the minimum wage change to come into effect on October 1.  This will likely result in the minimum wage changing incrementally every year, creating an additional administrative burden on employers who pay their employees at or near the minimum wage.

2. It eliminates the $10,000 cap on the recovery of unpaid wages through Ministry of Labour Orders to Pay under the ESA.  This provision comes into force on February 20, 2015, although the cap still applies to orders made in respect of wages due prior to the date on which the provision comes into force.

3. It requires employers to provide each of their employees with a copy of the most recent poster published by the Ministry of Labour that provides information about the ESA. An employer must provide available translations of the poster if requested by an employee.  The poster must be provided to all employees within 30 days of the day on which the provision comes into force, and thereafter (for new employees) within 30 days of the day on which an individual becomes an employee of the employer.  This provision comes into force on May 20, 2015.

4. It increases the period of recovery of unpaid wages (i.e. the limitation period) under the ESA to two years, and gives Ministry of Labour inspectors the ability to order an employer to conduct a “self-audit”, whereby it examines its own records to ensure it is in compliance, after which the employer must report back to the officer on the level of compliance.  This provision comes into force on February 20, 2015.

5. It expands employment protections to cover all foreign employees who come to Ontario under an immigration or foreign temporary employee program (previously the protections had only been in place for live-in caregivers).  This provision comes into force on November 20, 2015.

6. It creates “joint liability” for a temporary help agency and its client for certain ESA violations, such as the failure to pay regular wages, overtime pay, and public holiday entitlements.  Although the temporary help agency still has the primary liability, the client is now jointly liable.  This provision comes into force on November 20, 2015.

7. It amends the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act to add “temporary help agencies” as a recognized definition, and to assign workplace injury and accident costs to the client of a temporary help agency when an employee is injured while performing work for the agency’s client.  This provision will come into force on a future date to be proclaimed by the Lieutenant Governor, so it is unclear when it will take effect.

8. It expands coverage under the Occupational Health and Safety Act to include unpaid co-op students and other unpaid learners, which will give them protections such as the right to know about workplace hazards and the right to refuse unsafe work.  This provision came into force on November 20, 2014.

9. It amends the Labour Relations Act, 1995 in respect of the unionized construction industry’s “open period”, to decrease the time when construction workers can change their union representation (or apply to remove their union) from three months before the expiry of the current collective agreement down to two months.  This provision comes into force on May 20, 2015.

Particularly in respect of the changes to the ESA, these expanded powers will likely result in an increase in claims made to the Ministry of Labour, as this process is generally cheaper and faster than court-based civil litigation.

On the Radar Screen: the Stronger Workplaces for a Stronger Economy Act, 2014

School Board Taught a Costly Lesson: Court Upholds Reinstatement with 10 Years of Back Pay

Ms. Fair was employed by the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (the “Board”) from 1988 to 2004, when her employment was terminated.  During her employment, Ms. Fair had developed a psychiatric disorder, namely, generalized anxiety disorder.  She took a disability leave on October 2, 2001, as a result of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder related to the stress of her job.  When the Board determined it could not accommodate her, the Board terminated her employment in July 2004.  At that point, she filed a human rights complaint, alleging discrimination based on disability.

Due to amendments to the Human Rights Code in July 2008, Ms. Fair was given the opportunity to, and did, refile her complaint as a “transitional application” under the transitional rules that were put in place at that time.  The result of this refiling was that for the first time, Ms. Fair formally identified the remedies she was seeking, including the remedy of reinstatement.  The result:  years after dismissing her, the Board learned that she was seeking reinstatement as a remedy.

In February 2012 the Tribunal finally issued its decision on liability, and concluded that there were in fact positions into which Ms. Fair could have been placed without causing undue hardship, but the Board had failed to make the attempts to do so.  As such, the Board had failed in its duty to accommodate.

In 2013, the Tribunal issued its decision in respect of remedies.  The Tribunal rejected the Board’s argument that the length of time between the termination and the decision made it unfair to order reinstatement.  The Tribunal ordered the Board to reinstate Ms. Fair to a suitable position, being a position at or equivalent to the position she was in before the termination of her employment in 2004.  The Tribunal also ordered the Board to compensate Ms. Fair for her loss of earnings for the entire period between her dismissal and the reinstatement, less any mitigation earnings, as well as $30,000 for compensation for the injury to her dignity, feelings and self-respect.  Since Ms. Fair had earned minimal amounts since her dismissal, the amount owing was in excess of $400,000, plus pension and CPP adjustments and compensation for lost medical benefits, and a gross-up for tax (given the lump sum payment).

Not surprisingly, the Board filed for review of the decision with the Divisional Court.  The Board made a number of what might be called “technical” arguments about the decision, including that the Tribunal breached its duty of fairness in the way the hearing was conducted, that there was a “reasonable apprehension of bias” because of certain comments made by the Vice-Chair during the hearing, that the Tribunal failed to properly follow its own Rules, and that it had not provided sufficiently detailed reasons for its decision.  The Divisional Court rejected all of these arguments, holding that there was no reasonable apprehension of bias on the part of the Tribunal, and that there were no procedural defects in the conduct of the hearing or in the decisions that had been issued.

The Board also argued that the Tribunal’s decision was unreasonable.  The Board tried to attack the portion of the decision in which the Tribunal found that there was no appropriate accommodation made by the Board.  The Board argued that it had made a number of accommodations for Ms. Fair, and that the Tribunal’s conclusion that the Board had not met the standard of undue hardship was unreasonable based on the evidence.

The Divisional Court rejected the Board’s arguments, and found that the Tribunal’s conclusion was supported by the evidence.  The Court held that the Tribunal’s decision was reasonable, considering that the Board had taken a number of steps to avoid finding alternate employment for Ms. Fair, including a refusal to consider alternate roles and failing to seek out further medical evidence it needed to accommodate her.

In terms of the remedy, although the Court agreed with the Board that reinstatement was an “uncommon” remedy before the Tribunal, the Court held there was nothing unreasonable about such a remedy.  The Court justified its conclusion by referring to the broad remedial authority of the Tribunal, and as well the Court referenced the unionized workplace setting, where reinstatement is not unusual where there has been a breach of a collective agreement.

With respect to the fact that so much time had passed between the dismissal and the order of reinstatement, the Court held that the goal of the remedial provisions of the Code ought not to be “thwarted” because of the passage of time, particularly since the delay was largely beyond the control of Ms. Fair.

There is a significant body of case law on the duty to accommodate disabilities in the workplace, and the high threshold needed to meet “undue hardship”.  Were it not for the remedy (reinstatement with 10 years of back pay), this decision would not likely have raised eyebrows.  There are relatively few cases in which the Tribunal has awarded reinstatement as a remedy, but certainly the award of reinstatement in this case, and the significant monetary damage award that followed, serves as a warning to employers about the risks inherent in the human rights process.

Ultimately, this decision underscores the importance of lining up any defence – and assessing the relative strengths and weaknesses – early on.  It also demonstrates that the Courts will in general defer to specialized tribunals when it comes to fact-finding and remedial issues, so employers should not expect that Courts will readily relieve them from onerous decisions at the Tribunal.  One thing is clear:  if reinstatement is sought as a remedy, care should be taken on the employer side to ensure that the case is strong, and that it proceeds expeditiously through the system.  In that sense, delay can certainly work against the employer where reinstatement is on the table, so employers should make every effort to ensure the case moves forward as quickly as possible.  In that sense, if there is a real risk of reinstatement, delay could be said to work against the employer.

Of course, given the nature of the decision and the “costs” of the remedies (both financial and logistical), it can be expected that the Board will carefully consider seeking further review from a higher level Court.  We will continue to watch the evolution of this case if/when it works its way to a higher level of authority.

School Board Taught a Costly Lesson: Court Upholds Reinstatement with 10 Years of Back Pay

Yet Another Reminder on the Importance of Careful Drafting of Termination Clauses…

As if employers needed one, we now have yet another decision invalidating a termination provision for failure to comply with the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (the “ESA”)Miller v. A.B.M. Canada Inc., 2014 ONSC 4062 (CanLII).

Mr. Miller applied for and obtained the position of “Director, Finance and Business Process Improvement”.  Prior to commencing employment, he had signed an employment contract, which contained the following elements of “remuneration”:

  • A base salary of $135,000 per year;
  • Pension contributions up to a maximum of 6% of base salary; and
  • A car allowance of $680 per month.

The employment contract contained the following provision in respect of termination without cause:

“Regular employees may be terminated at any time without cause upon being given the minimum period of notice prescribed by applicable legislation, or by being paid salary in lieu of such notice or as may otherwise be required by applicable legislation.”

 Mr. Miller commenced employment on September 1, 2009 and was dismissed on a without cause basis on January 26, 2011. The primary issue was whether the termination provision limited Mr. Miller’s entitlement to the ESA minimum (two weeks), or whether he was entitled to common law pay in lieu of notice.

After examining the clause and considering case law (including Wright v. Young and Rubicam Group of Companies and Stevens v. Sifton Properties Ltd.), the Court came to the following conclusions:

  • the length of the notice period in the contract, being “the minimum period of notice prescribed by applicable legislation”, was effective to rebut the presumption of reasonable notice according to common law, and as such (provided the remainder of the contract was valid), the amount of notice was legitimately established in the contract as being the ESA minimum; but                                     
  • the contract breached the ESA requirement that if pay in lieu of notice is provided, all benefits must be continued.  The contract only required the payment of “salary” in lieu of notice. The failure of the contract to require payment of the 6% pension contribution and the car allowance rendered the clause contrary to the ESA, and void for all purposes, such that Mr. Miller was entitled to common law pay in lieu of notice.

The Court also made the observation (although technically this was not a required part of the decision and would be considered obiter), that the wording of the provision at issue will determine whether it is enforceable, rather than the actual actions of the parties.  In other words, if a provision is unenforceable because it does not comply with the ESA in some respect, the fact that the employer does actually comply with the ESA will not render the provision at issue enforceable.

Interestingly, the Court held that although the termination provision was invalid, Mr. Miller “cannot escape bearing some responsibility for the fact that both parties entered into a contract which fell below ESA standards”, which seems to suggest that the Court still considered the contract when assessing the common law notice period. Ultimately, after considering Mr. Miller’s age (39), length of service (17 months) and position (Director, Finance and Business Process Improvement), the Court awarded three months of pay in lieu of notice at common law.

Mr. Miller thus received three months of pay in lieu of notice, rather than the minimum two weeks pursuant to the ESA.  This case stands as yet another reminder that termination provisions must be carefully drafted to meet the ESA in every respect, or they will be subject to attack, resulting in the employee potentially being entitled to common law pay in lieu of notice.

Miller v. A.B.M. Canada Inc., 2014 ONSC 4062 (CanLII)

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Yet Another Reminder on the Importance of Careful Drafting of Termination Clauses…

Beware the Unpaid Intern – He/She May be Eligible for Pay

The issue of unpaid internships is becoming a growing concern for both employers and Ministry of Labour Inspectors. Recently, the publisher of magazines Toronto Life and The Walrus announced that they were pulling the plug on their unpaid internships following a Ministry of Labour inspection (http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/unpaid-internships-at-toronto-life-the-walrus-shut-down-by-ontario-1.2589115). Rogers has subsequently followed suit, with a company spokesperson announcing that the company wants all internships to be associated with an educational institution or to be paid (http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2014/04/03/unpaid_interns_dropped_from_rogersowned_magazines.html).

Provincial employment standards legislation in Canada generally requires that all “employees” receive minimum wage and that the employer meets other minimum standards. The legislation does, however, recognize that there is a benefit to allowing unpaid internships, while at the same time ensuring that certain requirements are met in order to prevent an employer from characterizing vulnerable workers as “interns” to avoid the obligation to provide the minimum standards.

The employment standards requirements for retaining unpaid interns vary significantly across Canada. This blog will examine the requirements in Ontario and Québec.

Ontario Requirements

Internships in the School Context

An individual can work and not be subject to the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (the “ESA”) in either of the following circumstances:

  • he/she is a secondary school student who performs work under a work experience program authorized by the school board that operates the school in which the student is enrolled; or
  • he/she performs work pursuant to a program approved by a college of applied arts and technology or a university.

If either of these exemptions applies, the individual can be retained without the organization meeting the requirements of the ESA.

Internships Outside of the School Context

If the internship program is not affiliated with a college of applied arts and technology or a university, an individual receiving training in skills similar to those used by the organization’s employees is an “employee” and is entitled to the minimum requirements of the ESA (including minimum wage), unless all of the following conditions are met:

  • The training is similar to that which is given in a vocational school;
  • The training is for the benefit of the individual;
  • The organization providing the training derives little, if any, benefit from the activity of the individual while he or she is being trained;
  • The individual does not displace employees of the organization providing the training;
  • The individual is not accorded a right to become an employee of the organization providing the training; and
  • The individual is advised that he or she will receive no remuneration for the time that he or she spends in training.

Only if all of these requirements are met is the person exempt from the ESA. If even one of these conditions is not satisfied, the individual would be entitled to the minimum standards of the ESA.

Québec Requirements

Internships in the School Context

Section 3(5) of Québec’s Act respecting Labour Standards (the “ALS”) provides that the ALS does not apply to a student who works during the school year in an establishment selected by an educational institution pursuant to a job induction program approved by the Ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport (the Ministry of Education). The fact that the ALS does not apply to such students implies that an employer may not be required to pay them.

However, each of the conditions mentioned in this provision must be present in order for the exception to apply. To be excluded from the application of the ALS, the individual must meet all of the following four conditions, namely:

  • be a student;
  • who works during the school year;
  • in an establishment chosen by an educational institution;
  • pursuant to a job induction program approved by the Ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport.

Internships Outside of the School Context

In Québec, whenever an “internship” takes place outside of the school/student context such that the above exception is not applicable, the Regulation adopted under the Act respecting Labour Standards (“RLS”) provides that the minimum wage requirement does not exist for “trainees” or “students” such as:

  • a student employed in a non-profit organization having social or community purposes, such as a vacation camp or a recreational organization;
  • a trainee under a program of vocational training recognized by law (this law must provide for the nature and duration of the vocational training, i.e. internship in a law firm after Bar school); or
  • a trainee under a program of vocational integration under section 61 of the Act to secure the handicapped in the exercise of their rights.

The mere fact that trainees fall within any of the three above exceptions does not mean that they should not be paid at all during the internship, but rather means that the employer is not bound by the minimum wage rate requirement. However, where an employer chooses not to pay such trainees at all, the trainees do not have recourse pursuant to the ALS.

Whether in Ontario, Québec or elsewhere in Canada, we recommend that if an employer is contemplating retaining unpaid interns, legal advice be sought to ensure that the program meets the applicable provincial criteria. In addition, there should always be written documentation (such as an offer letter) making clear that the position is unpaid because the person is a student, trainee or an intern, to avoid later disputes that the individual did not understand the nature of the opportunity or the fact that he/she would not be paid.

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Beware the Unpaid Intern – He/She May be Eligible for Pay

(Not) April Fools Day – Changes to the Canada Labour Code effective April 1, 2014

For those federally regulated employers that are governed by the Canada Labour Code (the “Federal Code”), there are some substantive changes coming of which you should take note.

The Jobs and Growth Act, 2012 made certain amendments to the Federal Code. The amendments stem primarily from the public consultations that followed the Report of the Federal Labour Standards Review Commission that was released in 2006. The Government has indicated that the amendments are designed generally to make compliance with the Federal Code easier for employers and employees, and to reduce the employers’ costs of administering the legislation.

It has now been announced that the changes will come into force on April 1, 2014.

Limitation Period for Recovery of Wages

Currently there is no established time limit beyond which wages under Part III (labour standards) cannot be recovered. As a result, inspectors can issue written payment orders to employers or directors, ordering them to pay to the employee any wages or other amounts owing to which an employee is entitled going back as far as the evidence establishes that an amount is owing, potentially years prior.

The amendment will set a six-month time limit for the filing of a complaint alleging unpaid wages. As such, if an inspector concludes that an employer has paid to an employee all wages and other amounts under Part III for the six-month period preceding the complaint, the inspector will issue a notice of unfounded complaint. If an amount is found to be owing within this period, the inspector may make an order for wages and other amounts owing for a period starting 12 months (or 24 months for vacation pay) before the date on which the complaint is made, the date on which employment was terminated, or the date on which the inspection started (where a payment order results from a proactive inspection).

For employers, this means that an inspector will not be able to reach back indefinitely in reviewing an employee’s complaint for wages, and brings the Federal Code in line with most provincial statutes in setting a reasonable limit on the inspector’s power to issue orders.

Establishment of a 30-Day Time Period to Pay Vacation Pay on Termination of Employment

The Federal Code currently requires employers to pay outstanding vacation pay “forthwith” to employees when they cease to be employed. As vacation pay is considered wages under the Federal Code, this creates an anomaly, because the Federal Code generally requires employers to pay any wages “within 30 days” from the time when the entitlement to the wages arose. The amendment will ensure that employers pay employees any vacation pay owed within 30 days (rather than “forthwith”) after the day on which the employment ends.

Administrative Review Mechanism for Payment Orders and Notices of Unfounded Complaint

The amendments provide for an administrative review mechanism. Within 15 days of a payment order, the rejection of an unjust dismissal complaint or a notice of unfounded complaint, a person affected by an inspector’s decision can request a review of the decision, with written reasons. An employer or corporate director requesting a review would have to pay the Minister the amount indicated in the payment order as a condition of the review. A payment order or a notice of unfounded complaint could be confirmed, amended or rescinded on review. The decision on review could be further appealed to a referee, but only on a question of law or jurisdiction. The Minister could also refer a complex case directly to a referee, rather than going through the new review mechanism.

While these changes do not represent a major overhaul of the Federal Code, they do move in the right direction, in providing additional clarity and efficiency for employers subject to the Federal Code. The most significant change, the introduction of a limitation period for orders to pay wages, is an important and long overdue addition to the Federal Code, and is a welcome change for employers.

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(Not) April Fools Day – Changes to the Canada Labour Code effective April 1, 2014

Don’t be “Convicted” of Discriminating based on Criminal Convictions

Picture it: you have the perfect person to hire. You run the background check, and discover a criminal conviction. You are inclined to withdraw the offer, but suddenly you are faced with the question: can I do it?

The answer will depend on which province you are in. Below is a summary of the human rights implications of asking about criminal convictions in Ontario, BC, Quebec, Alberta and Saskatchewan. In addition to the human rights implications, an employer will also have to consider privacy rights in proceeding.

Ontario

In Ontario, there is no protection for applicants for employment against differential treatment based on a conviction, unless the conviction is for (i) a provincial offence or, (ii) in the event of a criminal offence, a pardon has been obtained. This occurs because although the Ontario Human Rights Code does provide protection from differential treatment based on a “record of offences”, it defines “record of offences” as follows:

“a conviction for,

(a) an offence in respect of which a pardon has been granted under the Criminal Records Act (Canada) and has not been revoked, or

(b) an offence in respect of any provincial enactment.”

Given this definition, there is no protection against differential treatment based on a criminal offence (which is a federal statute), unless a pardon has been obtained. Accordingly, an employer can treat a person differently based on an unpardoned criminal conviction in Ontario.

British Columbia

The B.C. Human Rights Code prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of a summary or criminal conviction where the offence is “unrelated to the employment or to the intended employment of that person”. As such, an employer may not treat a person differently on account of a criminal record unless it is related to the employment. In this respect, the B.C. Code protects a broader range of situations than the legislation in Ontario. The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal and courts have consistently held that whether a conviction is related to employment must be considered in every case with respect a series of factors, including:

  1. whether the behaviour for which the charge is laid, if repeated, would pose a threat to the employer’s ability to carry on business safely;
  2. the circumstances and particulars of the offence, including the individual’s age and other extenuating circumstances; and
  3. the amount of time elapsed since the charge and the individual’s activities or rehabilitation efforts since that time.

Given these provisions, employers in BC must be cautious in asking for information concerning a criminal record; depending on the type of job for which the person is being hired, even asking for this information may expose an employer to a human rights or privacy complaint.

In B.C., if an employer asks a job applicant whether he or she has a criminal record, and the applicant answers “yes” to the question, the employer may not disqualify the person simply on that basis without exposing itself to a human rights complaint. From a practical perspective, it may be difficult to defend such a complaint if the person is otherwise qualified for the position. An employer would have to demonstrate that the particular offence is related to the person’s employment by obtaining more information about the offence and the circumstances surrounding it, including considering the above factors. If it can demonstrate that the conviction is related to the person’s employment – for example, an applicant for a controller position has a fraud conviction from six months ago – then it may be able to disqualify the applicant on that basis.

Quebec

The Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms (the “Charter”) prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of a penal or criminal conviction where the offence is “in no way connected with the employment or if the person has obtained a pardon for the offence”.

Accordingly, in Quebec, if an employer refuses to hire an applicant because of his/her criminal record or dismisses an employee for the same reason, it must be able to demonstrate that there is a connection between the criminal record and the employment. The question of the connection to the employment is examined on a case-by-case basis, considering factors similar to those outlined in respect of the B.C. legislation above. In general terms, the greater the degree of integrity and trust that the position requires, the easier the connection may be to establish because the expectations of an employer in such a position will be higher.

 Alberta

Alberta does not have “criminal convictions” or something similar as one of the prohibited grounds in its Human Rights legislation. There is therefore always an argument that a refusal to hire someone due to a criminal record is not discriminatory in Alberta with respect to human rights. That said, employers should be careful when making a hiring decision based on information or a conviction that is not related to the position for which the person is being hired. The employer should also obtain consent to conduct these searches and procedures should be put in place to satisfy any privacy obligations with respect to the disclosure of this personal information (i.e. only limited personnel in Human Resources should view the results and the information should be kept in a secure location, etc.). Alberta’s Personal Information Protection Act may also place restrictions on what personal information an employer may gather in the course of background-checking a job applicant.  B.C. and Quebec also have their own provincial personal information protection legislation that should be considered in those provinces.

Saskatchewan

Similar to Alberta’s legislation, The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code does not list “criminal convictions” or anything similar as one of its prohibited grounds. It appears that the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission conducted an extensive review of its Code in 1996 and recommended that the list of prohibited grounds be expanded to protect people from discrimination if they have been charged with or found guilty of a criminal or summary conviction offence that is unrelated to their employment or intended employment. However, this recommendation still does not appear to have made its way into the current version of the Saskatchewan Code. As a result, asking this type of question should not be considered discriminatory in Saskatchewan because it is not a protected ground. Nevertheless, similar to Alberta, employers should be cautious in proceeding with such checks and in relying on such information.

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Don’t be “Convicted” of Discriminating based on Criminal Convictions

Internal Reorganizations and Constructive Dismissal: Minimizing Risk

While not making new law, the recent Divisional Court decision in Ghanny v. 498326 Ontario Limited 2013 ONSC 4057 provides a useful reminder of the steps an employer should take to minimize the risk of constructive dismissal when engaging in a good faith reorganization that impacts on the terms and conditions of its employees’ employment.

The facts of the case are quite simple. The employee, Mr. Ghanny, had been employed with Downtown Toyota for 18 years as Service Manager, earning $80,000 per year. The owner of Downtown Toyota also owned Downtown Suzuki. The owner advised Mr. Ghanny in June 2008 that his position was being eliminated at the end of the month, but that Mr. Ghanny would be relocated to Downtown Suzuki, which was just a few blocks away. Mr. Ghanny was advised that he would continue as Parts and Service Manager at Downtown Suzuki, and would earn the same $80,000 compensation package.

Mr. Ghanny refused the position at Downtown Suzuki for two reasons. First, he believed that his 18 years of service would not be recognized at the new location, and second, he was concerned that the position at Downtown Suzuki was uncertain, because the owner had also told him that in the near future it was likely that the Suzuki location would either be converted into a Lexus dealership, relocated, sold or possibly closed. As such, Mr. Ghanny felt that the position at Downtown Suzuki would only be temporary.

There was a conflict in the evidence as to whether Mr. Ghanny was told that he would lose his seniority. The employer gave evidence that it highly valued Mr. Ghanny, and legitimately wanted him to accept the position at Downtown Suzuki. To that end, the employer’s evidence was that it told Mr. Ghanny that his years of service would be transferred to Downtown Suzuki, and further that Mr. Ghanny was told that whatever the future of Downtown Suzuki, his job was not at risk.

On the issue of recognition of service, the trial judge preferred the evidence of the employer over the evidence of the employee. The Court held that it was unlikely that the employer, who was attempting to convince a valued employee to accept a new role, would have told him that his service was being eliminated. It found that it was more likely that the employer told him that although his service at Downtown Toyota was being eliminated, his service would be transferred to Downtown Suzuki.

The Court found that one month’s notice of the change was insufficient, and that if Mr. Ghanny’s action had been successful, 14 months would have been reasonable notice. That said, relying heavily on the Supreme Court of Canada decision in Evans v. Teamsters Local 31, [2008] 1 S.C.R. 661, the trial judge dismissed the action, finding that it was unreasonable of Mr. Ghanny to refuse to accept the position at Downtown Suzuki. The Court stressed a number of factors in coming to this conclusion:

  1. Although not an identical job, the position at Downtown Suzuki was the same type of job, and as such the new position would not have been demeaning or insulting.
  2. The employer legitimately wanted to retain the employee, and as such this was not a veiled attempt to get rid of him.
  3. The employee was given assurances that his overall compensation would remain the same.
  4. The employee was told that although there was a risk that the dealership might close, the employer would find a place for him within its organization.

Key to the Court’s conclusion was the fact that with the exception of the issue of service recognition, the terms of the new position were clearly outlined by the employer. As such, there was no ambiguity as to the nature of the position or the compensation the employee would receive. Given that the new position was comparable to the previous position, Mr. Ghanny failed to mitigate his damages by refusing to accept the new role, and was not entitled to pay in lieu of notice. On appeal, in a brief endorsement, the Divisional Court determined that the trial judge had correctly applied the law, and upheld the decision.

For employers, this case reinforces that legitimate organizational changes can be implemented without triggering constructive dismissal where the new position and compensation are comparable to the previous role. When proceeding with organizational change that impacts terms and conditions of employment, this case highlights the importance of the following:

  1. Give as much notice of the change as possible.
  2. Be clear with the employee as to: (i) the nature of the new position; (ii) any revised compensation; and (iii) how the employee’s service will be recognized. In Ghanny, it appears that one of the reasons the employee rejected the change was a misunderstanding as to whether his service at the new location would be recognized. Had the employer been clear in its offer (for example, by sending an e-mail or other written communication confirming the terms of its offer), a significant issue at trial could have been avoided.
  3. Where appropriate, make it very clear to the employee that this is an organizational change, and that he/she is a valued employee whom the employer wishes to retain.
  4. If the employee rejects the change, make efforts to find out why, and if possible address the concerns, or at a minimum explain why the employer needs to implement the aspect of the change that the employee finds objectionable. The employee should then, if possible, be given the opportunity to reconsider accepting the role.

Proceeding with these considerations in mind will make an employee more likely to accept a new position, and if the matter proceeds to litigation, reduce the risk (and liability) of constructive dismissal.

To view the Trial Decision click here:

To view Divisional Court Decision client here:

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Internal Reorganizations and Constructive Dismissal: Minimizing Risk