To ring in the New Year, we highlight the ten most significant developments in Canadian labour and employment law in 2014 (in chronological order):
- Supreme Court of Canada clarifies the test for summary judgment (Hryniak v. Mauldin): On January 21, 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada released a decision that will expand (among other things) the use of summary judgment motions in civil wrongful dismissal claims. Summary judgment motions must now be granted when there is no genuine issue requiring a trial. In many wrongful dismissal cases, this will allow parties who fail to negotiate settlement to resolve their case in court without incurring the costs that are associated with a full trial.
- Amendments to the Canada Labour Code come into effect: On April 1, 2014; and October 31, 2014, amendments to the Canada Labour Code came into force, creating new statutory time limits for filing complaints and payment orders, altering the powers of inspectors investigating complaints, and changing the occupational health and safety standards that apply to federally regulated workplaces. Click here and here for detailed information on the new requirements. Saskatchewan overhauls it’s workplace legislation: On April 29, 2014, the Saskatchewan Employment Act came into force, modernizing Saskatchewan’s existing labour and employment legislation, including occupational health and safety, employment standards, and labour relations laws. Click here for more detailed information.
- The “$2.5 million payroll” threshold for severance pay expands: On April 17, 2014, in Paquette c. Quadraspec, the Ontario Superior Court decided that an employer whose “payroll” only exceeded $2.5 million when out-of-province wages were included was required to pay statutory severance pay under the Ontario Employment Standards Act. It remains to be seen whether the decision will be appealed or applied in future cases, but employers should be aware of the increased risk of severance pay obligations. Click here for more information about the case and its implications.
- Ontario’s WSIAT finds restriction on mental stress entitlements unconstitutional: Under Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, a worker is only entitled to benefits for mental stress when there is an “acute reaction to a sudden and unexpected traumatic event” arising out of and in the course of employment. This restriction does not apply to “physical-mental” claims in which a physical injury triggers a psychiatric condition. On April 29, 2014, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal determined that this restriction was unconstitutional because it arbitrarily distinguished between persons with “mental” and “physical-mental” disabilities. This case raises constitutional arguments surrounding the mental stress coverage restriction and is likely to result in expansion of WSIB coverage for mental stress claims and/or legislative reform.
- Federal Court of Appeal establishes a new test for discrimination on the basis of “family status”: On May 2, 2014, in Attorney General of Canada v. Johnstone, the Federal Court of Appeal established a new test for workplace discrimination on the basis of family status. Click here for additional information about the case and its implications.
- Employee reinstated ten years after employer’s failure to accommodate: In Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board v. Fair, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario found that the employer had failed to accommodate an employee’s disability and ordered reinstatement almost 10 years after she had stopped working. On August 29, 2014, the Divisional Court upheld the Tribunal’s extraordinary decision. This decision will likely result in more frequent reinstatement orders in the human rights context—where the employer failed to accommodate, and where reinstatement is practical and reasonable under the circumstances. Click here for additional information about the case and its implications.
- Former Globe and Mail columnist ordered to repay settlement amounts for breaching settlement confidentiality: In 2013, Jan Wong was found by an arbitrator to have violated the confidentiality clause in a settlement agreement with her former employer, the Globe and Mail. Wong was ordered to repay almost $210,000 of her settlement monies. On November 3, 2014, the Divisional Court upheld the arbitrator’s decision, and ordered Ms. Wong to pay $30,000 in legal costs. Click here and here for more information on the case and its implications.
- Occupational health & safety incident reporting obligations clarified in British Columbia: On September 15, 2014, in British Columbia Hydro and Power Authority v. Workers’ Compensation WorkSafeBC of British Columbia,the British Columbia Court of Appeal provided some much-needed clarification surrounding the scope of an employer’s obligations to report injuries to WorkSafeBC. Click here for more information on the case and its implications.
- Bill 18 amends Ontario’s labour and employment legislation: On November 20, 2014, Bill 18 was passed, introducing changes to Ontario’s workplace legislation, including the Employment Standards Act, 2000, the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the Labour Relations Act, 1995, the Employment Protection for Foreign Nationals Act, 2009, and the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997. Click here for detailed information on the changes.
Many thanks to Jennifer Bernardo for her assistance in drafting this article.