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Compliance Reminder – New Statutory Leaves in Ontario

Employers should be aware that effective as of October 29, 2014, statutory leaves of absence in Ontario under the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (the “ESA”) will be expanded to include the new “family caregiver leave”, “critically ill child care leave” and “crime-related death and child disappearance leave”.  These leaves of absence are in addition to the current Ontario “organ donor leave”, “family medical leave”, “personal emergency leave”, “pregnancy leave”, “parental leave”, “reservist leave” and “emergency leave – declared emergencies”.  Details of the new leaves of absence are as follows:

1.  Family caregiver leave – Up to 8 weeks per year can be taken in order to take care of a family member with a serious medical condition.

2.  Critically ill child care leave - Up to 37 weeks per year can be taken in order to care for a critically ill child under the age of 18.

3.  Crime-related child death and disappearance leave - Up to 52 weeks can be taken if an employee’s child disappears and it is probable that the child disappeared as the result of a crime.  If a child dies as a result of the crime, the leave period is increased to up to 104 weeks.

Each of these leaves of absence are unpaid, and under each leave time off can be taken by the employee in bits and pieces rather than altogether.  Employees using the critically ill child care leave may be eligible for Employment Insurance benefits for a portion of the leave; however guidance should be sought from Service Canada, as the leave provisions do not match up precisely with EI benefit eligibility.

As a reminder, the current statutory personal leaves of absence which are already in place in Ontario are the following:

(i)  Personal emergency leave – Up to 10 days of leave per year to deal with a personal emergency, illness, injury or urgent matter for oneself or a specified family member.  Personal emergency leave is only required in workplaces with 50 or more employees in Ontario.

(ii)  Family Medical Leave – Up to 8 weeks of leave per year to provide care or support to certain family members for whom a qualified health practitioner has issued a certificate stating that the family member has a serious illness with a significant risk of death occurring within a period of 26 weeks.

(iii)  Organ Donor Leave – Up to 13 weeks of leave per year for those employees who have undergone surgery for the purpose of organ donation.

(iv)  Reservist Leave – Time off for reservists to assist with international and domestic emergencies, for the period of time required to assist with the operation.

In addition to the above leaves, all employers should be aware of their obligations to provide pregnancy and parental leave under the ESA.

Employers should review their employee handbooks prior to October 29th in order to determine how the new leaves fit with existing statutory and non-statutory leave entitlements.

Compliance Reminder – New Statutory Leaves in Ontario

20-Day Jail Sentence for Employee who Released Employer’s Confidential Information in Breach of Court Order

A former employee received a 20-day jail sentence after she flagrantly disregarded a court order by disclosing the plaintiffs’ confidential business methods and disparaging their business reputation.

Background

In July 2013, Ceridian entered into an agreement with Pendylum Inc. (“Pendylum”) to assist in the delivery of services to Ceridian’s customers. Under the terms of its agreement with Pendylum, Ceridian required that all of Pendylum’s subcontractors, including the Defendant, submit to a background check.  The Defendant refused.  As a result, Pendylum terminated the Defendant’s contract.

Following her dismissal, the Defendant embarked on an email campaign with Pendylum and Ceridian that culminated in threats and conduct akin to extortion.  In November 2013, the Defendant sent a letter to Ceridian advising that unless she received the sum of $23.2 million, she would disclose confidential information relating to the Plaintiffs’ business and their customers.  The Defendant subsequently reduced her demand to $500,000.00. On April 24, 2014, the Defendant sent another letter to Ceridian, in which she threatened to circulate a “press release” on May 12, 2014 containing the Plaintiff’s confidential information to “every press agency and HR and payroll agency across Canada and the U.S.”.  By letter dated May 8, 2014, the Defendant repeated her threat of disclosing her “press release” on May 12, 2014.

In response to the Defendant’s threats, the Plaintiffs brought an ex parte motion for, amongst other things, an interim injunction. The Court granted a five-day interim injunction prohibiting the Defendant from publishing the press release. Although the Defendant had knowledge of the court order, she disregarded the order and proceeded to issue the press release, which was widely disseminated on the internet by numerous news outlets.

The Finding of Contempt

The Court concluded that the Defendant knowingly and deliberately breached the court order by:

  1. releasing the enjoined document to press agencies;
  2. making absolutely no effort to stop the public release despite the pleas and offers of assistance from the Plaintiffs; and
  3. failing to provide the Plaintiffs with the list of persons to whom she had disclosed the confidential information.

The Court noted that if the Defendant disagreed with the court order, then the proper route would have been for her to challenge it by appeal or by another proceeding before the courts, not by ignoring its terms.

The Sentence

When considering the appropriate sentence for the Defendant’s non-compliance, the Judge commented that in his nine years as a judge he had “never encountered a more defiant or less remorseful Defendant”.  The Court found that the Defendant was deserving of significant sanction for, inter alia, the following reasons:

  • The Defendant knowingly and deliberately breached the court order, which can be evidenced by the emails that she exchanged with the Plaintiffs’ counsel in which she wrote “the court order has no effect” and “[the judge] cannot violate my right to free speech.”
  • The Defendant took no steps to retract the press release even after she was aware of the court order.
  • The Defendant continued to attempt to extort a settlement even after she had knowledge of the court order.
  • The Defendant continued to refuse to provide a list of the persons to whom the press release/confidential information had been disclosed.
  • There was uncontroverted evidence that the Plaintiffs may sustain significant harm as a result of the press release, which may have an impact on the Ceridian’s business and position in a competitive market.

Based on the foregoing, the Court found the Defendant’s breach of the order to be serious and continuing.  Moreover, the Court found no mitigating factors – the Defendant did not show remorse; she did not apologize; she made no attempt to purge the contempt; she made no effort to stop the press release when she had days to do so; and she refused to provide the names of persons to whom the confidential information was disclosed.  Furthermore, at the sentencing hearing she continued to argue that: this is nothing more than a defamation case; the order should never have been issued; the order was not breached; and that the Court and counsel have “colluded.”

The Court determined that a fine was an inappropriate sanction on the facts of this case.  The Defendant was a single mother and the costs awards to date, totaling approximately $27,500, had not been paid and the Court accepted would probably never be paid.

Typically, incarceration for civil contempt is a sanction of last resort.  However, the Court held that where the “the administration of justice has been flouted or ignored in public, imprisonment may be necessary for the court to send a clear a message that society as a whole disapproves of anyone who deliberately disobeys a court order”. The Defendant was sentenced 20 days in jail, to be served intermittently over five weekends so as not to jeopardize her employment income as the sole provider for her family.

Ceridian Canada Ltd. v. Azeezodeen, 2014 ONSC 4162 (CanLII)

20-Day Jail Sentence for Employee who Released Employer’s Confidential Information in Breach of Court Order

Top Ten Tips for the Workplace

Every now and then, it’s worth it for even the most seasoned HR professional to receive a reminder about best practices in the workplace.  Ensuring compliance with our Top Ten Tips list below will help to keep your workplace running smoothly.

1.  Ensure that all  employees sign employment agreements that clarify potentially contentious issues up front, such as entitlements on termination.

2.  If your workplace has any concerns about protecting company confidential information or intellectual property, ensure that employees also sign some form of Confidential Information and Intellectual Property Agreement (“IP Agreement”).

3.  Remember that employment agreements and IP Agreements must be signed before an employee’s start date.  If that doesn’t happen, then the employee must be provided with some sort of “consideration” for signing (eg. a signing bonus; a promotion and salary increase), and the consideration should be specifically referenced in the agreement(s).

4.  Remember that the law is ever-changing:  a good employment agreement template one year will not necessarily be legally compliant the next year.  An annual legal review of your employment agreement templates will provide a significant cost savings to your business in the long run.

5.  If it is important to your business that restrictive covenants be entered into, ensure that non-competition covenants are not used where non-solicitation and confidentiality covenants would suffice to protect the company.  In addition, ensure that the covenants are sufficiently narrowly drafted in terms of scope, duration and jurisdiction so that they can be upheld by the courts.

6.  Provide employees with at least several days to consider any employment agreements that they are being asked to sign, so that they may obtain legal advice if they wish.

7.  Ensure that your workplace is up-to-date and compliant with all of its statutory obligations.  In Ontario for example, that includes ensuring that all employees have undertaken mandatory Workers and/or Supervisors Health & Safety Awareness Training, ensuring compliance with the Access to Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), ensuring compliance with the Pay Equity Act if applicable, and ensuring that your workplace has posted all required Employment Standards Act (2000) posters and all required Occupational Health & Safety Act posters and policies.

8.  In the event of employee disability issues, consider obtaining legal advice to help you to properly assess and monitor the situation, so that both your workplace and the employee are protected and treated appropriately.

9.  In the event that an employee must be terminated, ensure that he/she is provided with reasonable notice in accordance with the applicable statute, any applicable employment agreement, or the common law (except in the case of a just cause termination).  Do not seek a release unless the employee has been offered something more than the minimum statutory entitlements, and if the employee refuses the offer, provide all minimum statutory amounts even in the absence of a release.  Ensure that benefits and vacation pay continue to accrue through the statutory notice period, and ensure that the Record of Employment is properly completed and submitted in a timely manner.

10.  Don’t hesitate to seek legal advice.  Oftentimes, the biggest problems can be made much smaller if legal counsel is contacted before action is taken.

 

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Top Ten Tips for the Workplace

Human Rights claims in the Ontario courts – Now What?

Way back in 2008, the Ontario Human Rights Code was amended to permit human rights claims to be piggybacked onto wrongful dismissal actions in the Ontario courts.  Prior to that time, the only recourse for an employee with a discrimination claim was to make a complaint to the [then] Human Rights Commission.  Some 5 years later, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice has recently released its very first decision in a joint wrongful dismissal/discrimination action.

The case in question was the September decision of Justice Grace in Wilson v. Solis Mexican Foods Inc.  Patricia Wilson was a 16 month employee at the time of her termination, and off work due to back problems.  The reason given for Ms. Wilson’s termination was a corporate reorganization, but the court found that reasoning “[defied] common sense” as Ms. Wilson was never told about the impending reorganization while it was taking place.  The court looked closely at the communications between Ms. Wilson’s doctor and employer, and found that the only conclusion that could be drawn was that the employer was not happy with Ms. Wilson’s ongoing back problems and absences from work, or her requests for accomodation.  Justice Grace reiterated that as long as an employee’s disability is a factor in the decision to terminate, there will be a finding of discrimination.  That is the case whether the disability is the sole factor or simply one small factor in the decision-making process.  In this case it was clear to the judge that Ms. Wilson’s back problems were a significant factor in the decision to terminate, but the result would have been the same even if her back problems were but one factor along with the reorganization.

Having determined that Ms. Wilson had been discriminated against, the court awarded her $20,000 due to the fact that she “lost the right to be free from discrimination” and experienced “victimization”, and due to the fact that the employer orchestrated her dismissal and was disingenuous both before and during the termination.  That amount was in addition to the damages received in lieu of notice of termination.

Interestingly, the court did not comment on whether or not reinstatement of employment was an option, thereby leaving that issue to another court on another day.  While employees pursuing complaints at the Human Rights Tribunal can seek reinstatement, and while the Human Rights Code appears to permit courts to make similar orders, we still have no guidance as to whether reinstatement will become a tool used by our courts.

To view the decision, click here:  http://canlii.org/en/on/onsc/doc/2013/2013onsc5799/2013onsc5799.html

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Human Rights claims in the Ontario courts – Now What?

Bill 14 Receives Royal Assent: British Columbia Employees To Receive Workers’ Compensation for Bullying and Harassment

This Post also appears on occupationalhealthandsafetylaw.com.

Bill 14, or the Workers’ Compensation Amendment Act, 2011 received Royal Assent on May 31, 2012. Among other things, the Act expressly addresses bullying and harassment, and amends section 5.1 of the Workers’ Compensation Act. Section 5.1 currently requires that, in order to receive workers compensation benefits for a mental disorder, the mental disorder must have been an acute reaction to an event in the workplace. Come July 1, 2012, an employee will have a compensable claim for mental stress resulting from: traumatic events in the workplace; a significant work-related stressor; or a cumulative series of significant work-related stressors.

WorkSafeBC, the entity tasked with the administration and implementation of the Workers’ Compensation Act, must bring its Policies (which are applied by the Officers of the Workers’ Compensation Board in the course of adjudicating claims) into line with these changes to Section 5.1.

To this end, WorkSafeBC’s Policy and Regulation Division has developed a draft Policy which addresses the changes to the way claims of mental disorder are adjudicated. The Discussion Paper accompanying the draft Policy identifies the challenges of adjudicating claims of gradual onset stress, and notes the lack of experience with such claims at the Workers’ Compensation Board. However, the Policy, among other things, attempts to put some limits on the stress claims that may be advanced by employees by requiring that the stressor complained of must exceed the intensity or duration expected of the normal pressures associated with the workplace, and excludes interpersonal conflicts to the extent those conflicts do not include threatening or abusive behaviour such as bullying or harassment. Regardless however, it appears that Officers of the Board will retain a fair bit of discretion as to what stressors will, and will not, be accepted in the context of the new Section 5.1 and Policy, and employers can expect that the bounds of this discretion will be the subject of challenge at at least the Board and the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Tribunal.

In contrast to British Columbia’s new and broad approach to claims of mental disorder, Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Manitoba have all implemented legislation which limits an employee’s ability to claim compensation for gradual onset stress.

WorkSafeBC estimates that the acceptance of claims under the new Section 5.1 will result in the acceptance of an additional 300 wage-loss claims annually, with an estimated cost impact of $18 to $20 million dollars.

WorkSafeBC is currently accepting stakeholder feedback on the proposed new Policy until June 15, 2012. The Discussion Paper and draft Policy can be accessed at: http://www.worksafebc.com/regulation_and_policy/policy_consultation/assets/pdf/Bill14/Bill14MentalDisorder.pdf

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Bill 14 Receives Royal Assent: British Columbia Employees To Receive Workers’ Compensation for Bullying and Harassment

L’importance de la disposition de cessation d’emploi

La décision qu’a rendue la Cour supérieure de justice de l’Ontario (CSJO) dans l’affaire Wright v. The Young and Rubicam Group of Companies a confirmé que les dispositions de cessation d’emploi qui figurent dans les contrats de travail ne seront pas reconnues valides si le texte de celles-ci est ambigu.

En 2005, Wright a été embauché à titre de cadre par la société défenderesse. Avant son premier jour de travail, il avait déjà signé un contrat prévoyant des droits en cas de cessation d’emploi, lesquels allaient d’une semaine de préavis à 34 semaines de salaire de base, selon le nombre d’années de service. Lorsqu’il a été congédié en 2010, Wright a reçu 13 semaines de salaire en guise de préavis, conformément au contrat en question. Insatisfait du montant reçu, il a intenté une action et présenté une requête en jugement sommaire.

Lors de l’audience, la juge Low a invalidé le contrat de travail, car elle estimait, comme Wright, que ce dernier aurait dû recevoir le préavis de licenciement prévu sous le régime de la common law. Le contrat a été invalidé pour deux raisons. Premièrement, le contrat ne respectait pas les normes minimales fixées par la Loi de 2000 sur les normes d’emploi de l’Ontario (la « LNE ») et, par conséquent, M. Wright aurait pu toucher une indemnité plus élevée, pour quelques-unes des années visées, en vertu du délai de préavis prescrit et de la prestation de départ prévue par la LNE qu’en vertu des clauses de son contrat. Cela n’est pas permis, même dans les cas où il n’existe qu’une faible possibilité que le contrat soit moins généreux que la LNE. La deuxième raison, mais la plus importante, c’est que la disposition sur la cessation d’emploi ne contenait aucune mention relative au traitement des avantages sociaux durant la période vidée par le préavis. La juge Low n’a pas jugé pertinent le fait que les avantages sociaux aient été fournis à Wright durant la période visée par son préavis statutaire et a déclaré que la disposition sur la cessation d’emploi aurait dû énoncer clairement les droits aux avantages sociaux, de même que les droits en matière de préavis et d’indemnité de départ.

Peu importe la fréquence à laquelle votre société examine et révise ses contrats de travail, un examen approfondi est toujours recommandé. De plus, à la lumière du jugement de la CSJO, les employeurs devraient envisager d’inclure, dans leurs contrats de travail, le traitement des avantages sociaux en cas de cessation d’emploi.

Wright v. The Young and Rubicam Group of Companies :
http://www.canlii.org/en/on/onsc/doc/2011/2011onsc4720/2011onsc4720.html

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L’importance de la disposition de cessation d’emploi

The “Wright” Way to Draft a Termination Provision

In the recently released Ontario Superior Court of Justice decision in Wright v. The Young and Rubicam Group of Companies, it was confirmed that a termination provision in an employment agreement will not be upheld if there are any ambiguities in the language of the provision.

Wright was hired in 2005 as an executive at the defendant company.  He signed an agreement prior to his start date, which provided for entitlements on termination ranging from 1 week of notice to 34 weeks of base salary, depending upon his length of service.  On being terminated in 2010, he was given 13 weeks of pay in lieu of notice pursuant to that agreement.  Unhappy with that amount, he commenced a claim and brought a motion for summary judgment.

At the hearing, Justice Low overturned the employment contract and agreed with Wright that he should have received common law notice of termination. The contract was overturned for two reasons.  First, because it did not track the language of the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (Ontario) (the “ESA”) carefully, there were a few years under which Wright might have earned more by way of statutory notice and statutory severance under the ESA than under his contract.  That is not permitted, even in cases where it is only a contingent possibility that a contract may undercut the ESA.  Secondly and more importantly, the termination provision did not mention the treatment of benefits during the notice period.  Justice Low found that it was irrelevant that benefits were in fact provided to Wright during his statutory notice period, and stated that the termination provision should have clearly set out the benefits entitlement as well as the notice and severance entitlement.

No matter how many times your company may review and revise its employment agreements, a further review is always recommended.  And in light of this decision, employers should consider dealing, in the employment agreement, with treatment of benefits on termination.

Wright v. The Young and Rubicam Group of Companieshttp://www.canlii.org/en/on/onsc/doc/2011/2011onsc4720/2011onsc4720.html

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The “Wright” Way to Draft a Termination Provision