On January 14, 2016, an Alberta Court delivered a unique penalty to an employer who breached occupational health and safety standards. Needoba Construction Ltd. (“Needoba”), received a sentence of 18 months of Corporate Probation, an $11,150 fine including surcharge and, most surprisingly, 200 hours of community service for failing to ensure the health and safety of one of its employees.
The decision arises from a 2012 incident during which an employee of Needoba fell 6.5 metres through an uncovered opening for a stairwell at a residential construction site and sustained severe injuries. Needoba did not have a fall protection plan in place at the site and was charged under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (the “Act“). The Act grants the Court broad discretion in crafting a sentence for occupational health and safety convictions. Prior to Needoba, the Alberta Courts have never exercised their discretion to impose community service on corporate defendants. Interestingly, the Court did not specify who within Needoba was responsible for carrying out the community service.
The Needoba decision confirms that the Act has teeth, and Courts can be creative in imposing sentences on corporations. However, it is unclear whether community service will become a common sentence for employers. Less than 2 weeks after the Needoba decision, another employer, 938769 Alberta Ltd, also pleaded guilty under same section of the Act as Needoba. In that case, the employee sustained fatal injuries. While the employer was sentenced with a $100,000 fine and 18 months Corporate Probation, community service was not ordered. It remains to be seen whether Courts will begin imposing community service as part of the penalty for corporations convicted under the Act on a regular basis.