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Vancouver Employment Law Blog

Should your mental health issues cause you concern at work?

Everyone feels a little blue from time to time. But when depression or any mental illness becomes pervasive, it might interfere with every facet of life, which may include an individual's job duties.

Unfortunately, there is still a stigma attached to mental health issues. However, society has made leaps and bounds into understanding those issues and so, too, have employers. But if an employee has mental health concerns, it's important for both to be aware of their workplace rights and duties.

Wrongful termination: Will deregulation of marijuana be an issue?

With the talks of marijuana being further deregulated by the government, it will be more accessible to employees, and it might soon be an issue in British Columbia workplaces. Cannabis is consumed in different manners (including in the form known as marijuana), and how employers manage cannabis use by employees may determine whether they will face wrongful termination lawsuits. The details of imminent legislation to allow cannabis use will have to be carefully studied by employers to avoid the costs of such litigation.

In 2015, an employee of a logging company smoked marijuana during his breaks for pain relief as part of his management of pain caused by cancer. However, he failed to disclose this to his employer, and when marijuana was found in his truck after a collision with a moose, he was fired. The worker regarded this as wrongful termination and filed a complaint alleging human rights violations. In a subsequent lawsuit, the employer contended that the employee was an operator of dangerous equipment and impairment by marijuana was life-threatening.

Appeals court rules for random drug testing in Suncor Energy case

Employees at the oil and gas operations of Suncor Energy in British Columbia may be interested in the outcome of a legal battle that followed disputes in 2012 between the energy giant and Unifor - the union that represents some of the employees at the company's oil sands sites in another province.

At issue was random drug and alcohol testing, with the union taking the position that the company had violated employee rights by invading their privacy. In response, the employer underscored the fact that impairment by drugs or alcohol cannot be tolerated in employees in safety-sensitive positions.

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.

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