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Ontario Human Rights Tribunal Rules That It Is Discriminatory To Deny Group Benefits To Employees Aged 65 and Older

We have reported before on the case of Wayne Talos and the Grand Erie District School Board. Mr. Talos was a teacher who chose to continue working past the age of 65, but was denied further benefit coverage due to his age.

Following a lengthy hearing, the Human Rights Tribunal ruled this month that the provision of the Ontario Human Rights Code which permits employers to cease benefit coverage at age 65 is unconstitutional because it violates the equality rights in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

During the hearing the Tribunal heard from various economists, actuaries and other expert witnesses on the sustainability of benefit plans if health, dental and life insurance benefits are to be extended to employees aged 65 and older. The Tribunal concluded that it is not “cost-prohibitive” to continue benefits. In other words, the Tribunal ruled that it is financially sustainable to include employees aged 65 and older in plans that provide health care, dental and modified life insurance benefits.

It remains to be seen whether the decision will be appealed. The Attorney General of Ontario had intervened in the case and submitted that the increased cost of providing benefits to older workers will either significantly increase the cost of benefits or, alternatively, will result in a significant reduction in overall benefits provided to all employees.

A remedy was not ordered by the Tribunal. Instead, the Tribunal ordered the parties to either engage in mediation or to return for a hearing on the remedial order.

The Tribunal assumed that 5 to10% of the School Board’s workforce is 65 or over when calculating the significance of the increased costs. One wonders whether more employees over age 65 will choose to work if benefits are now available, thereby further increasing the benefit costs.

We will update you with further information about this significant decision.

Wayne (Steve) Talos v. Grand Erie District School Board, 2018 HRTO 680

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Ontario Human Rights Tribunal Rules That It Is Discriminatory To Deny Group Benefits To Employees Aged 65 and Older

ESA Update: Ontario Government to Temporarily Reinstate Pre-Bill 148 Public Holiday Pay Formula Effective July 1, 2018

As you are aware, Bill 148 made substantial changes to the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (“ESA”) that took effect on January 1, 2018.  Among those changes was a new formula for calculating public holiday pay.  This new formula required employers to calculate public holiday pay based on the regular wages earned in the pay period before the public holiday, divided by the number of days the employee worked in that pay period.

In a surprising turn of events, the Ontario government announced on May 7, 2018 that it will be reviewing the public holiday provisions of the ESA. The Ministry of Labour will conduct this review in 2018 and interested parties can provide submissions on the Public Holiday Pay Review to exemptions.review@ontario.ca.

More surprising—the government has also enacted a new regulation, Ontario Regulation 375/18, which reinstates, on an interim basis, the old public holiday pay formula for all employers.  As a result, effective July 1, 2018, public holiday pay will be calculated under the old public holiday pay formula as follows:

Public holiday pay is equal to the total amount of the regular wages and vacation pay earned in the 4 weeks before the work week in which the public holiday occurred, divided by 20.

Ontario Regulation 375/18 is a temporary measure while the Public Holiday Pay Review occurs, which means the public holiday pay formula could change again after the Public Holiday Pay Review is complete.

To read Ontario Regulation 375/18, click here: https://www.ontario.ca/laws/regulation/r18375.

For employers who have updated their public holiday policies to reflect the new formula under Bill 148, you will need to revisit these updated policies (or simply revert to your old public holiday policies) in preparation for July 1, 2018. Additionally, employers who have implemented the new public holiday pay formula into their human resources information systems or payroll systems will need to ensure these systems are changed back to the old public holiday pay formula come July 1, 2018.

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ESA Update: Ontario Government to Temporarily Reinstate Pre-Bill 148 Public Holiday Pay Formula Effective July 1, 2018

Posting Alert – Ontario Publishes Updated Version of Employment Standards Poster

In conjunction with its overhaul of the Employment Standards Act, 2000, the Ontario government has also published an updated version of the Employment Standards Poster. Employers must post the poster in the workplace in an area where it is likely to come to the attention of employees and provide a copy of the poster to its employees. As employment standards officers will no doubt be on the look-out for this poster, employers should ensure that they take steps to comply with this easy to spot obligation.

The new poster can be downloaded from the Ministry of Labour’s website at: https://www.labour.gov.on.ca/english/es/pubs/poster.php.

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Posting Alert – Ontario Publishes Updated Version of Employment Standards Poster

A Truly Poisoned Work Environment – Arbitrator Upholds Discharge of Employee Who Spiked Office Water Cooler with Bleach

In what can only be described as a victory for common sense, an arbitrator recently upheld the discharge of a 27 year employee who was found responsible for spiking the office water cooler with chlorine bleach.

On September 12, 2011, an employee reported to his supervisor that the water from the office water cooler had a “strong chlorine smell” and a “very hard taste”. In reviewing the surveillance video on the day in question, the Grievor is seen exiting his office with an empty water cooler jug, entering the chemical storage room and then leaving the chemical storage room and walking back to his office with a chlorine bleach jug in his hand. As he re-enters his office, the Grievor is seen placing his hand on the cap of the chlorine bleach jug. The Grievor later exits his office with the chlorine bleach jug in his hand. He ultimately returns to his office with a full jug of water for the cooler.

When initially confronted about the situation, the Grievor denied that he had caused the contamination of the water cooler but volunteered no information about why he had obtained the bleach from the chemical storage room. However, in his subsequent meetings with investigators and through his testimony at the hearing, the Grievor’s story evolved to the point where he alleged that he had poured the bleach into two cups – one to be used later in the day to clean some shelves in his office and the other to pour into a dumpster located outside his office in order to kill its odour.

At the hearing, the Grievor’s supervisor rejected the Grievor’s explanation noting that it made no sense for the Grievor to clean the shelves since they were not dirty and they were being dismantled to be taken out of the building. He further testified that he never saw the Grievor use a cup to pour chlorine breach into the dumpster.

In his decision, the Arbitrator found that the Grievor’s testimony lacked credibility. In the Arbitrator’s view, “the Grievor’s many actions, as witnessed on the video and as described in his testimony, when taken together simply defy logic and do not make sense”. As a result, the Arbitrator ruled that it was more likely than not that he was the cause of the chlorine bleach contamination of the office drinking water cooler. With respect to penalty, the Arbitrator held that “…the level of mistruths and evasiveness displayed by the employee, as well as his failure to take responsibility for his actions, irreparably harmed the employee-employer relationship.” There was therefore no basis for the Arbitrator to interfere with the Employer’s decision to dismiss the Grievor for cause.

This case is a good reminder of the importance that credibility will play when an adjudicator is asked to determine which version of events is more likely to have occurred. In conducting investigations, employers should ensure that they take detailed statements from those involved so as to “nail down” the alleged offender’s story. Should the alleged offender later change his or her story, the employer will be in a good position to impeach the employee’s credibility.

Knox v. Treasury Board (Canadian Food Inspection Agency), 2017 PSLREB 40.

 

 

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A Truly Poisoned Work Environment – Arbitrator Upholds Discharge of Employee Who Spiked Office Water Cooler with Bleach

Cheers to the Ontario government: a tonic for dealing with pension statements for missing plan members

A helpful change to Ontario pension law has come into effect, coincident with the arrival of patio season. It is a refreshing tonic that will help administrators deal with pension plan members who are difficult to locate.

Until now, the obligation to send pension statements to former and retired plan members has been an absolute legal requirement. The fact that an administrator did not have correct (or any) address information, did not relieve the administrator from the legal obligation to send pension statements.  That has changed.

The Ontario Superintendent of Financial Services now has the authority to waive the administrator’s legal obligation to provide a pension statement that would otherwise have to be sent to an unlocatable member.  This is not automatic.  The administrator has to write to the Superintendent and demonstrate that the inactive member should be considered “missing”.

A message to pension plan administrators: please take this seriously.  Do not assume that there will be no repercussions if you simply don’t send statements to unlocatable members.  Have any of the biennial statements sent out this spring to former and retired members been returned to sender?  Find out who those people are, and write to the Superintendent now to request that he waive the pension statement obligation for those individuals.  Doing so will demonstrate that you understand and care about compliance with Ontario pension law.

This welcome change to Ontario pension law does not solve the problem of what to do with the payments owed to unlocatable members.  The Ontario government has promised to address that challenge.  In its April 2017 Budget the government stated that it was considering initiatives such as the possible establishment of a public registry where employers or administrators could post information regarding missing beneficiaries and individuals could search for missing benefits.  There may be more good news on this front in the coming months.

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Cheers to the Ontario government: a tonic for dealing with pension statements for missing plan members

Interesting times for employers with Ontario pension plans

Yesterday the Ontario Deputy Superintendent of Pensions released a formal statement that included the comment:  “these are interesting times in the pension sector.”  How true.

Many long-anticipated improvements to Ontario pension legislation, regulation and policies are finally coming into force.  The pension regulator will have more specific, helpful powers to target non-compliance issues.  Plan sponsors will have more choices in the design of pension plans, especially in the defined contribution sphere.  And many employers who sponsor defined benefit pension plans will be pleased by this morning’s Ontario government announcement about an entirely new framework for funding defined benefit pension plans, which will come into effect “in the coming weeks”.

We have written about some of these promised changes in prior posts (here and here).  We will be providing more details and strategic suggestions about these interesting developments, in future articles.  In the meantime, you can find information about this this morning’s announcement by the Ontario government here.

Please contact a member of Dentons’ Pensions and Benefits group for information and advice about how these significant changes will affect your business.

 

 

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Interesting times for employers with Ontario pension plans

Changing Workplaces Review to be Released May 22: Media Reports

The countdown is on.

Over the weekend the Toronto Star and the CBC each published stories detailing what Ontarians can expect to see in the long awaited final report from the Changing Workplaces Review when it is released later this month. Citing unnamed government sources, the media outlets report that the Changing Workplaces Review has proposed a number of changes to Ontario’s labour and employment legislation including:

  • making it easier for cleaning staff and home-care workers to unionize;
  • requiring that employers provide employees with paid sick days;
  • increasing the minimum amount of vacation from 2 weeks to 3 weeks;
  • providing certain protections to independent contractors;
  • eliminating some of the exemptions to the Employment Standards Act, 2000 so that more workers are entitled to overtime and certain leaves of absence.

In addition, there is speculation that the Government may increase the minimum wage to $15.00 per hour.

We will continue to follow this story and will provide a comprehensive review once the final report is released.

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Changing Workplaces Review to be Released May 22: Media Reports

Changes to the Canada Pension Plan: a field guide for Ontario employers

Are you an employer who is uncertain about what you should be doing to prepare for the changes to the Canada Pension Plan (CPP)?  This guide will help you.

The changes were announced by the federal government a year ago, and formal rules became law at the end of 2016.  Unlike the infamous Ontario Retirement Pension Plan, these government-run pension changes are here to stay.

Here is a summary of the changes.

 Mandatory contributions to the CPP by employers and employees will increase, starting January 2019.  The increases will be phased in gradually over several years.  By 2023 employers and employees will each be paying 5.95% of their eligible income to the CPP.  Right now they are each contributing 4.95% of eligible income.

It’s a significant increase in contributions.  The combined employer and employee mandatory contributions to the CPP will go from 9.9% of employees’ eligible income to 11.9% of their eligible income.  That’s a 21% increase.

And it’s an even bigger hit for higher-income employees and their employers.  Anyone with an annual salary of more than $70k (approximately), and their employers, will have to make additional contributions commencing 2024.

The upside is that the amount of the CPP benefit paid to Canadians will increase.  It is expected that the annual benefit paid by the CPP will increase by as much as 50%.  In today’s dollars, the maximum CPP annual payout would go from $13,370 to $20,000.  This full enhancement to the CPP benefit probably won’t be seen for approximately 40 years.

If you have Quebec employees, beware:  the CPP does not apply.  Changes to the Quebec Pension Plan are being considered, but it’s not known whether or when any changes will be made.

January 2019 is not far away.  If you will be making changes to retirement and savings plans as a result of the CPP changes, you may want to communicate those changes to employees in the next year or so.

As a starting point, here are some high-level strategic suggestions:

 If you have a Group RRSP or defined contribution pension plan:

  • Consider whether to reduce the amount of required employee contributions to your plan, so that there will be little or no impact on your employees’ take-home pay.
  • Consider reducing employer contributions to your Group RRSP or defined contribution pension plan, so that the overall employer costs of contributing to the CPP and your employer-sponsored plan remain level.  If you decide to do so, communicate the changes to employees now, so they are well aware in advance of any changes.

If you have a defined benefit pension plan:

  • Find out if there is anything in your pension plan that relates to the CPP.  Are employee contributions computed based on how much they contribute to the CPP?  Is there a “bridge benefit” that relates to the CPP?
  • Ask your actuary whether the liabilities of your pension plan will increase as a result of any provisions that relate to the CPP.
  • Consider amending your pension plan to lessen the impact of the CPP changes, if any, on the design of your plan.

If you have a union:

  • Find out if there are sections of the collective agreement that will restrict you from making changes to your retirement savings plans.  Consider letting the union know, in collective bargaining, that changes may be made due to CPP changes.
  • If the term of the collective agreement goes beyond 2018, formulate a plan to communicate to the union the fact that employee take-home pay will go down as a result of higher CPP contributions.

Please contact a member of the Dentons Canada pension and benefits group for assistance in understanding how the CPP changes will impact your organization.  Be prepared.

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Changes to the Canada Pension Plan: a field guide for Ontario employers

Costs of Accommodation: British Columbia Supreme Court Reaffirms High Threshold for Undue Hardship

In a July 2016 decision, Providence Health Care v. Dunkley, 2016 BCSC 1383, the British Columbia Supreme Court held that Providence Health Care (PHC) and the University of British Columbia (UBC) failed to establish that the costs of providing interpreter services for a deaf medical resident constituted undue hardship.

The decision is a reminder of the demands placed on employers to accommodate, and that a successful undue hardship defence based on financial reasons will require extensive financial disclosure on the part of the employer and related entities.

Briefly, the facts of the case were as follows. The claimant secured a residency position at PHC, a local hospital. Due to a profound hearing loss, she required the use of sign language interpreters. On the residency start date, arrangements for interpreter services had not been made and a few months later, the claimant was placed on paid leave, followed by unpaid leave.  PHC subsequently informed her that accommodation could not be provided and dismissed her from PHC as an employee and from UBC as a resident.  The claimant filed a complaint with the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal, who found that PHC and UBC had discriminated against her on the basis of her physical disability.  The Tribunal concluded that PHC discriminated against the respondent regarding employment, contrary to s. 13 of the British Columbia Human Rights Code, while UBC discriminated against her by denying her accommodation, services or facilities customarily available to the public, contrary to s. 8 of the Code.

On judicial review, the British Columbia Supreme Court upheld the Tribunal’s decision.  The Court reaffirmed that the relevant considerations were the employer’s efforts to accommodate; the options explored and/or offered to the employee; and explanations given for the absence of such offers.

The Court upheld the Tribunal’s finding that PHC had used an unreliable cost estimate, and that both PHC and UBC had failed to undertake a reasonable investigation into the true cost of accommodation. Further, the Court confirmed that PHC could not base its claim of undue hardship only on its own budgetary restrictions.  The financial resources of UBC, Vancouver Coastal Health Authority (VCHA) and the Ministry of Health were also relevant since those entities were either affiliates of PHC or had agreed to provide it with funding for the UBC residency program.  Consequently, PHC should have explored the possibility of obtaining additional financial resources from those entities or establishing a cost sharing model as part of its investigation into costs.

The Providence Health Care v. Dunkley decision highlights that employers must prove that they have engaged in a comprehensive investigation into the true cost of accommodation, including an assessment of all sources of funding available, before they successfully rely on undue hardship.

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Costs of Accommodation: British Columbia Supreme Court Reaffirms High Threshold for Undue Hardship

Is This The Definitive Word on Termination Provisions/Consideration?

A series of Ontario cases dating back to 2012 has put into issue the question of what does, or doesn’t, make a termination provision enforceable.  After a number of recent employer-friendly decisions, the Ontario Court of Appeal has weighed in with a decision that contains some good news, and some bad news, for employers.

In Wood v. Fred Deeley Imports Ltd., the court primarily looked at: (i) whether or not consideration was required to uphold an employment agreement; and (ii) whether the termination provision in the agreement was unenforceable (thereby opening the door to a common law notice award).  The Plaintiff, Julia Wood, was an 8.4 year employee at the time of her termination.  She signed an employment agreement the day after she started work that contained a termination provision which provided for “2 weeks’ notice of termination or pay in lieu thereof for each completed or partial year of employment…”.  The termination provision also stated that “… the Company shall not be obliged to make any payments to you other than those provided for in this paragraph” and “The payments and notice provided for in this paragraph are inclusive of your entitlements to notice, pay in lieu of notice and severance pay pursuant to the Employment Standards Act, 2000”. On termination, the employer provided Wood with 13 weeks of working notice, followed by a lump sum payment equal to 8 weeks of pay.

In looking first at the consideration issue, the court found that Wood had been provided with a copy of the Agreement prior to her start date, although it wasn’t signed until the day after she started work.  The court determined that this was not a case where Wood was seeing the Agreement for the first time when she signed it, nor was it a case where a new material term was introduced into the Agreement at the time of signing.  The court went on to find that the signing of the Agreement the day after Wood commenced employment was merely an administrative convenience and therefore fresh consideration such as a signing bonus was not required in order to make the Agreement valid and enforceable.  The employer was therefore successful in arguing that the Agreement was not void for lack of consideration.

However, things went downhill from there for the employer.  In looking at the termination provision, the court found that it contravened the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA) and therefore was unenforceable.  It came to this conclusion for two reasons.  First, the court found that because the termination provision did not expressly require the continuation of benefits through the ESA notice period, it was in contravention of the minimum standards of the ESA.  This was so even though the employer gratuitously provided benefit continuance through the entirety of the ESA notice period.

Second, the court found that although it was possible that the termination provision could provide notice and statutory severance in accordance with or even in excess of the ESA, it was also possible for it to undercut the minimum provisions of the ESA.  Simply put, even though the “2 weeks per year” calculation could potentially result in the employee receiving more than her ESA notice and severance entitlements, it could also have the opposite effect.  In particular, Wood received less than her ESA severance in the case at hand because the payment of 8 weeks at the end of her working notice period was less than the 8.4 weeks of severance that she was entitled to under the ESA.

The court reviewed termination provisions in other cases and once again made it clear that each case will be decided based on its own facts.  For example, a termination provision which is not well drafted but does not expressly contract out of the ESA may yet be enforceable, despite this case. On the other hand, a termination provision which expressly contracts out of the ESA, as was the case here, will not be enforceable.

The broken record continues – the importance of properly drafting termination provisions cannot be understated and with so much at stake, it is critical that employers regularly review and update their termination provisions with the assistance of legal counsel.

The court’s decision in Wood v. Free Deeley Imports Ltd. may be found here.

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Is This The Definitive Word on Termination Provisions/Consideration?