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Court Allows the TTC to Implement Random Drug and Alcohol Testing

In a recent decision, the Honourable Justice Marrocco of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice denied the request of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113 and Robert Kinnear (the “Applicants”) to restrain the TTC from conducting the random drug and alcohol testing of its employees.

The random testing applies to TTC employees who work in safety sensitive, specified management, senior management and designated executive positions, including the TTC’s CEO. The TTC expects to test 20% of its eligible employees per year, which means that statistically, each eligible employee has the chance of being tested once every five years. If selected, employees will be required to take an alcohol breathalyzer test and an oral fluid drug test. A failure to submit to a random test will be a violation of company policy, and employees who test positive will be considered unfit for duty.

The TTC first introduced random testing to its Fitness for Duty Policy in 2011 and the parties have since been involved in an ongoing arbitration on the same issue, which “has no end in sight”. The TTC approved the implementation of the random testing on March 23, 2016. Shortly thereafter, the Applicants applied to the Court for an injunction to stop the testing until the completion of the arbitration hearing.

The Applicants argued that random drug and alcohol testing would cause employees “irreparable harm” by infringing on the employees’ right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. The Applicants also stated that the random testing: increased the likelihood of psychological harm to the employees, could damage the relationship between employees and management, and raised the risk of false-positive results.

In rejecting the Applicants’ arguments, the Court determined that TTC employees in safety-sensitive positions have a reasonably diminished expectation of privacy concerning their drug and alcohol consumption. In particular the Court noted that:

  • The employees’ duties, which include helping people make approximately 1.8 million journeys on the TTC’s system every day, as well as the TTC’s atypical workplace, which is “genuinely Toronto itself”, reasonably diminish the employees’ expectation of privacy concerning drug and alcohol consumption;
  • The TTC has chosen minimally invasive methods to conduct the random testing, which are superior to other methods available on the market;
  • The nature of the Fitness for Duty Policy is both disciplinary and remedial. Employees have the opportunity to challenge any positive results and have some degree of control over the information collected and generated in the testing process; and
  • Employees whose privacy has been “wrongfully infringed” by random testing have the opportunity to claim, and receive, monetary damages.

As such, the Court concluded that the TTC’s random drug and alcohol testing is an appropriate tool, which “will increase public safety”, as follows:

“After considering all the evidence, including the evidence to which I have referred, I am satisfied that, if random testing proceeds, [it] will increase the likelihood that an employee in a safety critical position, who is prone to using drugs or alcohol too close in time to coming to work, will either be ultimately detected when the test result is known or deterred by the prospect of being randomly tested.”

While the decision provides important insight on how the Court will approach the exercise of balancing employee privacy rights with the needs of a safety-sensitive workplace, it must also be remembered that this was an injunction application to prohibit the introduction of the Policy pending the arbitration, not a decision on the merits of the TTC’s Policy, which will be determined at arbitration. That said, the TTC has announced that the random drug and alcohol testing of its employees will begin this month (see the TTC’s press release here). The Court’s decision will likely encourage other employers in Ontario, particularly those in similarly-situated safety-sensitive workplaces, to follow suit.

A copy of the full decision can be found here: Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 113 v. Toronto Transit Commission, 2017 ONSC 2078

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Court Allows the TTC to Implement Random Drug and Alcohol Testing

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?

Who is a “parent” in the Ontario pension world? And why does it matter?

Any person who is the “spouse” of a member of a registered pension plan in Canada has rights regarding the pension entitlement of his or her partner. That important policy has been entrenched in pension legislation for decades.  Exactly who is a “spouse”?  The answer to that question has recently become a bit more complicated.

The Ontario government changed the Ontario Pension Benefits Act effective January 1, 2017 to recognize the evolving definition of a family, for legal purposes.  Administrators of registered pension plans should take steps now to ensure that their pension plan documentation and administration is keeping up with these changes.  Reputational and financial costs could be imposed on pension plan administrators who fail to recognize spouses’ rights to pensions, in this modern world where there has been an evolution of what constitutes a spouse.

The basic rules in Ontario are that two people are spouses for pension purposes if they are married to each other, or they fall within one of the following two categories:

  • they have been living in a conjugal relationship continuously for at least three years, or
  • they have been living in a conjugal relationship of some permanence for less than three years and are the parents of a child.

Effective January 1, 2017 a change was made to Ontario pension benefits legislation that is relevant to the phrase, “parents of a child”.

Prior to 2017, the Ontario legislation said that spousal pension rights under the parent category were triggered if the plan member and his or her partner were “the natural or adoptive parents of a child”.  That wording was simple.  Arguably, it did not capture circumstances where a child was conceived with assisted reproduction.  And it certainly did not address the complex issues of surrogacy or sperm donors.

The Ontario government has stepped in to address these complex issues. The definition of “parents of a child” in the Ontario pension benefits legislation now refers to provisions of the Ontario Children’s Law Reform Act.  That legislation has detailed provisions that address the complicated question of “who is a parent?”.  These are not simple provisions.  For example, they address circumstances of surrogacy where entitlement to parentage has been waived.  They also address circumstances of sperm donors where there is a written agreement, prior to conception, confirming that the donor does not intend to be a parent.

Pension plan administrators should consult their advisors to understand how to navigate these new requirements. Pension plan texts, member booklets, forms, and all other communications and administration must align with these changes.  Administrators will have to rely on experts to determine whether an individual is a spouse of a pension plan member, if the two individuals have been living together for less than three years, but may qualify as “spouses” because there is a child.

Administrators have a legal obligation to ensure that the correct individuals receive their pension entitlements. That means that these new Ontario requirements should be considered and implemented in all aspects of documentation and administration.

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Who is a “parent” in the Ontario pension world? And why does it matter?

2016 Labour and Employment Law – A Year in Review (in 140 characters or less)

As we close out the first month of 2017, we thought it appropriate to briefly review the cases which caught our eye in 2016 in 140 characters or less:

  1. Wilson v. Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., 2016 SCC 29 – @SCC_eng confirms Federally regulated employers cannot be dismissed without cause.
  2. Paquette v. TeraGo Networks Inc., 2016 ONCA 618 / Lin v. Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, 2016 ONCA 619 – Requirement of “Active Employment” on payout date without something more is not enough to limit employee’s bonus entitlement over notice period.
  3. Oudin v. Centre Francophone de Toronto, 2016 ONCA 514 – ONCA upholds less than perfect termination provision that does not contemplate the continuation of benefits.
  4. Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 113 v. Toronto Transit Commission (Use of Social Media Grievance) – Beware, Twitter can be an extension of the workplace.
  5. Strudwick v. Applied Consumer & Clinical Evaluations Inc, 2016 ONCA 520 – Court of Appeal doubles the initial award of damages against employer for bad behaviour.

Turning to the future, we invite you to join us at our complimentary webinar on February 9, 2017 as we will be discussing the trends that employers can expect to see in 2017.

Details are available by clicking here

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2016 Labour and Employment Law – A Year in Review (in 140 characters or less)

Ontario regulatory form regarding pension plan contributions: comply!

Trustees and administrators of Ontario registered pension plans: beware of Form 7.

That’s the form that administrators of registered pension plans must complete, and send to their pension fund trustees, that summarizes the estimated employer and employee contributions that will be due to be made to the pension plans in future. The form must be provided by the registered administrator of every Ontario registered pension plan to the trustee, at least annually.  If there’s a change to the estimated future pension contribution requirements, the administrator must send a revised Form 7 to the pension fund trustee within 60 days of becoming aware of the change.

Trustees of pension plans (which for this purpose include insurance companies) are not required to complete Form 7’s. But trustees have an important, independent legal obligation to notify the Ontario Superintendent of Financial Services if they do not receive the required Form 7.  Further, if contributions to the pension plan are not received by the trustee in accordance with the estimates in the Form 7 received by the trustee, the trustee must notify the Superintendent.  There are prescribed time limits for all of these requirements.

In essence, the Form 7 rules require pension fund trustees to police timely plan contributions. The law requires trustees to blow the whistle if a plan administrator is not making contributions on time.

In 2013 a trustee was prosecuted in Ontario for failing to report the non-filing of a Form 7 with respect to a plan administrator who eventually filed for bankruptcy protection from its creditors. The trustee plead guilty and was fined $50,000.

The gravity of compliance with Form 7 rules was recently emphasized by the Ontario pension regulator in an announcement that can be found here.  A few days ago, the regulator released a revised Form 7 that can be found here, as well as a comprehensive User Guide that can be found here, to assist plan administrators in completing Form 7.  It also released two new standardized templates, to be used by pension fund trustees to report to the Superintendent when a plan administrator fails to submit a Form 7, or fails to make the contributions as summarized in a Form 7.  The templates can be found here.

Although Form 7 is a prescribed form, it does not have to be filed with the Ontario pension regulator. It is simply a required communication from plan administrators to pension fund trustees.  Do not take this as an indication that the Ontario pension regulator is indifferent about compliance with the Form 7 rules.  It has clearly demonstrated that it requires compliance, and it has provided a guide and templates to assist the pension industry with the rules.

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Ontario regulatory form regarding pension plan contributions: comply!

Ontario Minimum Wage Increase Now in Effect

Ontario employers are reminded that the general minimum wage in Ontario increased on October 1, 2016 to $11.40 per hour, up from $11.25 per hour.  The liquor server minimum wage also increased to $9.90 per hour and the student minimum wage is now $10.70 per hour. The Ontario minimum wage is indexed to Ontario’s Consumer Price Index so future increases will be published on or before April 1 and will come into effect on the following October 1.

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Ontario Minimum Wage Increase Now in Effect

Ontario Court Rules that ESA Temporary Layoff may still Result in Constructive Dismissal

An Ontario Court has ruled in Bevilacqua v Gracious Living Corporation, 2016 ONSC 4127 that even in cases where an employer has complied with the temporary layoff provisions of the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (the “Act”), the layoff does not protect the employer from a successful claim in constructive dismissal by the employee at common law. In the case, a 15 year Facilities Manager was told by his employer that he was being temporarily laid off and that he would be recalled in three months. His company benefits were continued during the layoff period. While the layoff was done in accordance with the Act, the employee immediately took the position that he had been effectively terminated when he was placed on layoff. The Court agreed with the employee, and held that absent a provision in the employee’s employment contract allowing for a temporary layoff, a unilateral layoff constituted a constructive dismissal, regardless of whether it was done in compliance with the Act. The employee in the case, who was unemployed for 15 months after he was placed on layoff, was less successful with the remedy that the Court ordered. The employee was entitled to be paid for the three months he was on layoff, but the Court found that he had failed to mitigate his damages when he declined the employer’s offer to return to his old job after the layoff period was over.

Employers who wish to place employees on unpaid layoff should use this case as a reminder to update their employment agreements to provide for the right to unilaterally impose temporary layoffs in accordance with the Employment Standards Act, 2000 without further notice or compensation.

To view the decision, click here: http://www.canlii.org/en/on/onsc/doc/2016/2016onsc4127/2016onsc4127.html.

 

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Ontario Court Rules that ESA Temporary Layoff may still Result in Constructive Dismissal

A Rose by Any Other Name is Not as Sweet: When a Non-Solicit is Actually a Non-Compete

The Ontario Court of Appeal has held that the words “accept business”, in what the employer intended to be a non-solicitation clause, served to restrict competition and is therefore not merely a non-solicitation clause.

In this case, the personal defendant, Mary Murphy, was employed by the plaintiff Donaldson Travel Inc. (“DTI”) as a travel agent from October 2004 to April 2007 and then again from June 2007 to February 3, 2012, when she resigned from that employment. On February 6, 2012, Ms. Murphy commenced employment as a travel agent with the defendant, Goliger’s TravelPlus (“Goliger’s”).

Following Ms. Murphy’s resignation, DTI brought claims of breach of contract, misappropriation of confidential information, inducing breach of contract and interference with contractual relations against Ms. Murphy, Goliger’s and its President and director. Its claims were dismissed on a summary judgment motion, and DTI appealed to the Court of Appeal.

One of the issues on appeal was whether the motion judge erred in finding that the restrictive covenant in Ms. Murphy’s contract with DTI was in fact a non-competition clause rather than a non-solicitation clause, and therefore that it was unreasonable and unenforceable.

The clause at issue stated:

Mary agrees that in the event of termination or resignation that she will not solicit or accept business from any corporate accounts or customers that are serviced by Uniglobe Donaldson Travel, directly, or indirectly.

The Court of Appeal agreed with the motion judge that, based primarily on the language “or accept business”, the restrictive covenant did in fact restrict competition and was therefore a non-competition clause. Further, the Court of Appeal held that since this non-competition clause contained no temporal limitation, there was no basis on which to interfere with the motion judge’s conclusion that the clause was unreasonable and therefore unenforceable.

DTI’s appeal was dismissed with costs of $7,500.00 awarded to each defendant.

The key takeaway from this case is to ensure that the language of restrictive covenants is carefully chosen, so as to avoid inadvertently going beyond what is considered sufficient in the circumstances (in this case a non-solicitation clause) to protect an employer’s proprietary interest.

The Court of Appeal’s decision in Donaldson Travel Inc. v. Murphy, 2016 ONCA 649 (CanLII) can be found here:  https://www.canlii.org/en/on/onca/doc/2016/2016onca649/2016onca649.html.

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A Rose by Any Other Name is Not as Sweet: When a Non-Solicit is Actually a Non-Compete

Ontario Pension Plan Members Will Soon Have Significant New Rights

Ontario is on the verge of implementing new rights for members of registered pension plans. Members will have the right to form committees that will have broad rights to review information about all aspects of plan administration including investments.  Employers who sponsor or administer a registered pension plan should familiarize themselves with these new Ontario legal requirements.  They are not yet law, but likely will be in a matter of months.

Last week the Ontario government released revised draft regulations about these new legal requirements, seeking comments by September 12th, 2016.  The new requirements have been kicking around in draft for the past six years and will replace current Ontario legislation regarding member advisory committees.  Most employers probably haven’t heard of the current requirements regarding such committees, because the current rules have no teeth.  The new ones will.  You can find the new requirements here.

The new requirements will apply to pension plans that have at least 50 members (including retirees). For those plans, if 10 members (or their union) notify their plan administrator of their desire to form a member advisory committee, a process must be launched to inform all plan members and conduct a vote.  If a majority of members vote in favour of establishing an advisory committee, it should be established in a matter of months.  The plan administrator will have no right to representation on the committee.  Reasonable expenses of the committee are payable from the pension fund.

Once a new committee is formed, the plan administrator must:

  • arrange for the plan actuary (for defined benefit plans) to meet with the committee at least annually;
  • give the committee access, at least annually, to an individual who can report on the plan’s investments; and
  • give information to the committee, and allow it to examine the plan records.

These new legal requirements will not give plan members a say on how their plan should be administered, but they certainly will change the landscape of members’ access to information about their pension plan. The new requirements will come into play only where there is sufficient interest among members, or unions, in forming a member advisory committee.

These new Ontario rules will create an entirely new type of scrutiny of pension plan administration. Prepare now.

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Ontario Pension Plan Members Will Soon Have Significant New Rights

RECORDS OF EMPLOYMENT – NOT JUST FOR TERMINATIONS

The end of summer is (unfortunately) just around the corner, which for many employers means saying goodbye to student employees and seasonal workers. Most employers know that they need to complete a record of employment (ROE) when an employee terminates, but there are a number of other circumstances that require an ROE. Now is as good a time as any for a quick refresher on when employers need to complete a record of employment (ROE) for an employee and why it is important to do so correctly. My goal is not to give detailed instructions about completing ROEs; but to highlight the importance of properly issuing them and the potential liability from failing to do so.

ROE Overview

The ROE is the form employers complete when an employee receiving insurable earnings stops working such that he/she experiences an interruption of earnings. Service Canada considers ROEs to be the single most important documents in the Employment Insurance (EI) program.

When to Complete an ROE

You may have noticed I used the term “interruption of earnings” above and not “termination of employment” when describing when an ROE is required. That is because, as mentioned, ROEs are required in a wider range of circumstances (I will not get into the technical definition of “insurable earnings”, but suffice to say it includes most employees’ salary or wages).

An interruption of earnings occurs in the following situations:

  • when an employee has had or is anticipated to have seven consecutive calendar days with no work and no insurable earnings from the employer (the “seven-day rule”);
  • when an employee’s salary falls below 60% of his/her regular weekly earnings because of certain absences (illness, injury, quarantine, pregnancy, parental leave, compassionate care leave or family responsibility leave); or
  • when an employee starts receiving wage loss insurance payments.

In addition to the above interruptions of service, employers must also complete ROEs in the following instances:

  • when Service Canada requests an ROE for an employee;
  • when an employee’s pay period type changes (e.g., weekly to bi-weekly);
  • when an employee is transferred to another Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) payroll number;
  • when there is a change in ownership leading to a change in the employer;
  • when the employer declares bankruptcy;
  • when a part-time, on-call or casual worker is no longer on the employer’s active employment list or has not done any work or earned any insurable earnings for 30 days; or
  • when an employee is on a self-funded leave of absence.

The Importance of ROEs

There is not a great deal of litigation relating to ROEs, but incorrectly completing (or failing to complete) an ROE has attracted common law liability for employers.

One type of case occurs when an employer intentionally misrepresents the reason for the interruption of service or withholds an ROE from a departing employee. Allegations of misconduct on an ROE can disqualify an employee from eligibility for EI. If the allegations are untrue, or if an ROE is withheld, the employer can be liable to the employee for the resulting loss of EI payments and potentially for additional damages for bad faith conduct towards the employee.

Liability may also arise in cases where an ROE is used as evidence that a seasonal or fixed-term employee is in fact a permanent employee and therefore entitled to common law notice.  Courts have found that using the word “unknown” instead of “not returning” on an ROE for a seasonal worker indicated that the employment was permanent and that the seasonal return date was simply unknown at the time. Similarly, failing to issue an ROE at the end of each of a series of fixed-term contracts has been evidence that an employee was a permanent employee.

ROEs may be a hassle to complete, but it is important that employers keep track not only of when they need to be issued, but to ensure that they are completed correctly and accurately. For more information about completing ROEs, the CRA provides a helpful guide (Guide) and, of course, you may get in touch with a member of Dentons’ Labour and Employment group.

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RECORDS OF EMPLOYMENT – NOT JUST FOR TERMINATIONS