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Vancouver Employment Law Blog

Well-known baker loses right arm in workplace injury

In British Columbia, employers in all industries must comply with requirements to protect the health and safety of their employees. If the inspectors of WorkSafeBC investigate a workplace injury and find that safety violations caused it, the business will be fined. This happened to Nature's Oven Foods after an incident that claimed most of a baker's right arm earlier this year.

In May, the baker, well-known for baking the annual four by six-foot Canada Cake in West Kelowna, even received recognition in the House of Commons by a Member of Parliament. Reportedly, she lost her arm when it became entangled in the working parts of a dough mixer at the commercial bakery. The victim was appointed the position of the head baker at the company in 2012.

Wrongful termination: What is just cause?

An employee may be left with several questions when their job is suddenly terminated. These can be related to the employer's right to terminate their employment, what the reasons for dismissal were, and whether an assertion by the employer that there was just cause for the dismissal is accurate. Ocassionally, employees may also have questions about their rights to sue for the wrongful termination of their employment.

Generally speaking, an employer must provide either notice of dismissal or payment in lieu of notice to dismiss an employee without just cause. However, if there is just cause, the employee's employment can be terminated instantly without notice or pay.

Just cause will be found in circumstances where the trust inherent in the employment relationship can no longer be said to exist, such that continued employment would be impossible. Typical examples justifying just cause include gross incompetence, serious or repeated insubordination, theft, embezzlement, or lying to the employer.

Don't get burned when firing an employee on leave

When an employee goes on leave for whatever reason and his or her work ethic has been less than exemplary, an employer can still fire the employee if there is just cause. Many employers are under the impression that they can't dismiss a worker on leave -- whether they're not working due to medical reasons, parental leave or for any other matter.

Employees using a leave to try to slip away from under the axe should know that being on leave doesn't grant them immunity from being fired or laid off. If you have an employee who has been reprimanded or written up a couple times and then suddenly take stress leave, it may be that he or she senses impending dismissal and is trying to avert what he or she sees as an inevitability.

Employment law: What constitutes harassment?

Employers in British Columbia have an obligation to provide safe workplace environments in which employees can be free of harassment. But what constitutes harassment? Harassment can include situations where an employee is subjected to unwanted verbal or physical conduct that humiliates, degrades or offends him or her. Under employment law, it is classified as a type of discrimination.

Although harassment complaints typically involve such behaviour occurring over a period of time, a single and serious occurrence may also be considered harassment. It occurs when unwelcome remarks are made about an individual's religion, age, sex, disability, race or other discriminating grounds as defined by human rights legislation. Harassment can include threats, intimidation, unwelcome touching, or other manners of physical contact.

Employers must prioritize workplace safety

Workers are entitled to a safe workplace environment. Employers must comply with prescribed regulations regarding workplace health and safety, and employees may have a right to refuse work in unsafe conditions. Employers should encourage workers to report potential hazards in the workplace and then take proactive steps to address dangerous situations. By doing so, employers will not only ensure the safety of workers in the workplace, but they may also avoid financial consequences (and in some cases, criminal liability) associated with disregarding occupational health and safety.

Nurses frequently suffer workplace injury from violence

For most people in British Columbia, going to the hospital is something they do to get well. However, for many workers in the health care industry, hospitals are the very places that put them at risk for a workplace injury. In fact, a recent study by the Canadian Federation of Nurse Unions reveals that going to work can be a dangerous thing for nurses.

While only 15 percent of workers in other industries say they are victims of abuse or assault on the job, a shocking 61 percent of nurses say they routinely face harassment and mistreatment at work. While many nurses say the abuse is mostly verbal, more than 40 percent of injuries resulting from workplace violence are suffered by nurses. The profession with the second highest rate of injuries from violence was law enforcement at 14 percent.

Wrongful termination and the independent contractor

Understanding British Columbia labour and employment law can be a complicated matter. For example, individuals may find it surprisingly difficult to ascertain whether one is an "employee" in the eyes of the law. As it turns out the difference between being an employee and being an independent contractor can be subtle. Those subtle differences may be very important should a wrongful termination suit hang in the balance.

The BC Employment Standards Act covers rights and responsibilities of employees in BC. For example, the Act outlines the process that an employer must follow if they want to terminate the employment of one of their employees, and how much notice they are legally required to give that employee (or pay in lieu of notice). Independent contractors are not protected by the Act. For that reason, some employers may try to skirt their obligations under the Act by declaring an employee to be an independent contractor.

Discrimination trial testing the boundaries of BC employment law

Canada is a country that promotes tolerance and respect in all aspects of life, including work. Certainly, no person deserves to be subjected to discrimination in the workplace for any reason. The definition of "workplace" is at the heart of a case from British Columbia that is currently before the Supreme Court of Canada. The ruling could have a major impact on employment law disputes in the future.

In 2013, a worker became the target of discrimination while at work. A foreman overseeing the complainant's work on a road project apparently made numerous derogatory remarks, both verbally and in email, about the worker's race, sexual orientation and religion. Although the two men worked for different companies, the foreman was let go by his employer following the incident. A Human Rights tribunal upheld the claim of discrimination.

BC takes steps to reduce risk of workplace injury

No worker is immune to the risk of suffering an injury while on the job. However, the potential sources for a workplace injury are not always readily apparent. In an effort to combat a common but seldom considered hazard, the government of British Columbia has changed the rules covering restaurant servers' uniforms.

Many people have at one time been served in a restaurant by a waitress wearing high heels. Little do most customers realize what a health hazard shoes like that can be. Workers who spend extended periods wearing heels are subject to slips and falls, and are at increased risk of causing damage to their backs, legs and feet.

Special FX artist sues for wrongful termination after firing

The film industry is a major employer in British Columbia. A job working on a feature film is a highly sought-after position, and the opportunity to work on a potential blockbuster is of even greater appeal. That is what a local special effects artist thought he was being offered in a contract. When a three-month contract wrapped up two months early and allegedly without the promised work, the plaintiff chose to take his former employer to court, alleging wrongful termination.

In 2015, the plaintiff was offered a three-month contract with a visual effects company to work on the film "Batman v Superman." He was later told he would actually begin his contract working on another film, "Pan," but that he would likely work on both films over the course of his contract. The contract was to run from March 5, 2015 until May 5, 2015. 

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