Allan & Snelling LLP is an Ottawa, Ontario based law firm that provides advice with respect to legal matters affecting employers and employees. Amendments to the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act (the “OHSA”) to address workplace harassment and violence passed by the Government of Ontario in December, 2009 are in effect as of June 2010. The amendments to the OHSA impose positive obligations on employers including:
- Employers are required to develop written policies with respect to workplace harassment and workplace violence. These policies must be in writing and posted in a conspicuous place, and reviewed at least annually;
- Employers are required to develop and maintain a program to implement the policy with respect to workplace violence and workplace harassment;
- Employers are required to assess the risks of violence that may arise from the nature of the workplace, the type of work or the conditions of work;
- If the employer becomes aware or ought reasonably to be aware that domestic violence that would likely expose a work to physical injury may occur in the workplace, the employer shall take every precaution reasonable to protect the worker.
The amendments to OHSA require employers to take positive obligations to comply with the legislation. We can help. The legislation is available to the public at: http://www.e-laws.gov.on.ca/html/statutes/english/elaws_statutes_90o01_e.htm
Duty to accommodate – Where do employers draw the line?
Employers should do what they can to accommodate their employee’s disability, but there’s a line to be drawn between accommodation and frustration of the employment contract. If the contract is in fact “frustrated”, the employer can end the employment relationship without violating the Human Rights Code (Code). The question is whether the employer suffers undue hardship.
Section 11 of the Code allows the employer to show that a requirement, qualification or factor that results in discrimination is nevertheless reasonable and bona fide (legitimate). However, to do this, the employer must show that the needs of the person cannot be accommodated without undue hardship.
The duty to accommodate has both procedural and substantive obligations. The procedural component requires that the employer take steps to understand the employee’s disability-related needs and undertake an individualized investigation of potential accommodation measures to address those needs. The employer bears the onus of demonstrating what considerations, assessments and steps were undertaken to accommodate the employee to the point of undue hardship. The purpose of the duty to accommodate in an employment context is to ensure that an employee with a disability could continue to perform the essential duties of his or her employment if his or her needs can be accommodated without causing undue hardship to the employer.
The test for undue hardship is not total unfitness for work in the foreseeable future. If the characteristics of a disability are such that the proper operation of the business is hampered excessively or if an employee with such a disability remains unable to work for the reasonably foreseeable future even though the employer has tried to accommodate him or her, the employer will have satisfied the test. The duty to accommodate is compatible with general labour law rules, including both the rule that employers must respect employees' fundamental rights and the rule that employees must do their work. The employer's duty to accommodate ends where the employee is no longer able to fulfill the basic obligations associated with the employment relationship for the foreseeable future.
In Nason v. Thunder Bay Orthopaedic Inc. the employee was terminated while on unpaid medical leave. The trial judge awarded damages for wrongful dismissal. The Court of Appeal ruled that the employer’s decision to put the employee on an unpaid leave of absence was not an infringement of his rights, at that time, since the employer had already attempted to accommodate the employee. The employee could not fulfill the basic obligations of his position, despite the accommodations he received. However, the Court rejected the employer’s argument that the employment contract had been frustrated.
The onus to prove that the contract was frustrated was on the employer. The employer believed that the employee’s limitations were permanent. However, the employer did not seek medical information to sufficiently explore and conclude whether there was no reasonable likelihood that the employee could be returned to work with accommodations in the future.
The employer must assure that the tasks required of the employee are actually necessary to meet the employer’s goals. If the employee could continue his/her employment while avoiding such tasks and while still achieving the employer’s requested goal, there is no undue hardship. The test was set out by the Supreme Court of Canada. To establish a bona fide occupational requirement, the employer must prove that the requirement:
- was adopted for a purpose or goal that is rationally connected to the function being performed (such as a job, being a tenant, or participating in the service);
- was adopted in good faith, in the belief that it is necessary for the fulfilment of the purpose or goal; and
- is reasonably necessary to accomplish its purpose or goal, in the sense that it is impossible to accommodate the claimant without undue hardship.
What does this mean for Employers?
Employers should err on the side of caution and seek counsel prior to claiming frustration of the employment agreement. If it’s done prematurely, the employer could be subject to a wrongful termination claim, giving rise to common law reasonable notice or a claim for discrimination pursuant to the Code. Employers should also run an individual investigation into the employee’s limitations. It’s one thing to say that the employee cannot meet the demands of the job regardless of available accommodations. The employer must prove it by way of a proper and full investigation into the employee’s limitations. Prior to claiming frustration of the contract, the employer should consider the following:
- whether it investigated alternative approaches that do not have a discriminatory effect;
- reasons why viable alternatives, if any, can’t be put in place;
- whether it can meet the legitimate objectives in a less discriminatory way;
- whether the job requirement is properly designed to make sure the desired qualification is met without placing an undue burden on the people it applies to; and
- whether other parties who are obliged to assist in the search for accommodation have fulfilled their roles.
British Columbia (Public Service Employee Relations Commission) v. BCGSEU,  3 S.C.R. 3.
Ellis v. General Motors of Canada Ltd., 2011 HRTO 1453.
Nason v Thunder Bay Orthopaedic Inc, 2015 ONSC 8097,  OJ No 6892.
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I was injured in a car accident while driving to drop off a package for my employer—I almost never drive as part of my job. I work in an office as a clerk. The other driver was charged. Now I am off work and need physiotherapy. My doctor says I may have a permanent injury to my back. I have received a Notice from the Workplace Safety Insurance Board (WSIB) requesting that I elect whether or not I want to receive benefits.
Can I sue the other driver and receive benefits?
No. In Ontario injured workers who receive WSIB benefits forego their right to sue on their own behalf. You may choose to elect not to receive benefits and preserve your right to sue a third party in some limited circumstances. In Ontario, employees who are insured under the Workplace Safety Insurance Act scheme are not permitted to sue their own employer for injuries sustained while working. Depending on the nature of your job, you may not be able to sue another worker or employer either.
However, if you are injured in a vehicle collision and the responsible driver is not a worker as defined in the Act then you may elect whether or not you wish to receive WSIB benefits or pursue the at fault driver. That is a complicated decision.
Generally speaking, the more serious the injuries you have sustained the more likely you will be better off foregoing WSIB benefits and pursuing the at fault driver. However, if there are questions about liability (if you are wholly or partially at fault), or if there is a question about your ability to successfully recover damages in a tort action the WSIB scheme may be the best option for you.
Deciding whether or not to elect to receive WSIB benefits is complicated, and best made with the assistance of a Lawyer with experience in such matters. Experienced Lawyers are available to consult with you, often without obligation to you.
I have been off work since May 2016 and have been trying to obtain short-term disability insurance since then. My doctor has provided me with three sick notes since then and at our last appointment she told me not to work. However, my application for short-term disability insurance has been denied. I’ve given the disability insurer the notes from my doctor and I’ve gone through the appeal process but have been denied again. My employer is now asking when I will return and I’ve booked an appointment with my doctor to see what she thinks. What should I do?
It is not uncommon for disability insurers to deny an initial application for short-term disability benefits. Often the reason cited for the denial is a lack of medical evidence of a disability. If the only documentation you have provided to the insurer are sick notes from your doctor it is usually of assistance to obtain further medical records from your doctor including something documenting your diagnosis. Often, after receiving such additional documentation an insurer will approve an application for disability benefits. If you continue to be denied benefits, it is likely time to consult with legal counsel. Also short-term disability benefits typically end within 6 months even if you are approved. Ensure you know when these benefits end and decide with your doctor whether you should be applying for long-term disability benefits if they are available to you.
With respect to returning to work you are entitled to rely on your doctor’s advice. If your doctor tells you not to work this should be documented in a doctor’s note and provided to your employer. Forcing you to return to work when your doctor says you’re sick is in breach of human rights legislation and it’s unlikely that your employer will insist on your return to work in the face of your doctor’s advice.