On November 29, the Quebec Court of Appeal rendered a decision of major importance for Quebec employers, in what has come to be known as the Steamatic1 case.
This matter involved the policy of the Commission des normes, de l’équité et de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (the “CNESST”), adopted in April 2015 based on an interpretation of a 2010 decision of the Quebec Court of Appeal (Société canadienne des postes v. Morissette, 2010 QCCA 291) whereby the date of a worker’s resumption of capacity to work and the end of the payments for his or her treatment always corresponded to the date on which the worker was informed by his or her physician or by the CNESST that he or she was able to return to work.
For employers, the effect of this policy was to deprive them of the benefits of the medical evaluation procedure under the Act respecting industrial accidents and occupational diseases (the “Act”) by virtually eliminating their ability to have the conclusions of a doctor whose opinion differed from that of the worker’s doctor recognized by the CNESST.
The systematic application of this policy prevented employers from having deducted from their files the costs associated with the occupational injury between the effective capacity date, when the worker was able to resume his or her employment, and the date of the CNESST’s decision, which could be several months apart.
In its decision, the Court of Appeal effectively rejected the position taken by the CNESST and confirmed that the Morissette decision does not have the import ascribed to it by the CNESST as it did not definitively decide the issue of the effective capacity date. It moreover confirmed, as the Administrative Labour Tribunal (the “ALT”) had stated in its decision, that a case-by-case factual analysis is required in this regard and there is no automatic result in any given case.
Essentially, the Court of Appeal has confirmed that it is was reasonable for the ALT to conclude that the effective capacity date following an occupational injury can correspond with the “consolidation” date, where there is no permanent disability or functional limitation as a result of the injury.
Ultimately this is a tremendous victory for employers, who now will be able to benefit from the full effect of the Act, rather than purely theoretical relief. This is sure to have a favourable economic impact for many employers.
In addition, the CNESST will hopefully modify its policy in light of this decision, thereby avoiding multiple recourses by employers before the ALT.
Finally, it is interesting to note that the Court of Appeal took the occasion to briefly comment on the CNESST’s practice of clawing back from workers certain benefits where a decision changes the effective end-of-treatment date or capacity-to-work date.
While the Court did not have to decide this question, it clearly states in its judgment that at first blush it seems hard to maintain that the benefits were received without any entitlement in such cases, since the Act requires the CNESST to pay them to the worker. The Court of Appeal will soon be seized with this very question, and it will be interesting to see how it is decided.