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Vancouver Employment Law Blog

How does employment law treat cannabis now that it is legal?

It is almost one year since it became legal to use cannabis in Canada. In April 2019, a director of WorkSafeBC, Tom Brocklehurst, answered some of the questions that both employers and employees have about legal cannabis use in the workplace. One of the frequently asked questions addressed in his comments is whether there are new WorkSafeBC regulations in place to deal with recreational cannabis.

Mr. Brocklehurst explained that there are no definitive ways of determining the level of marijuana in a worker's system, nor the level of impairment affecting the worker. Cannabis can remain present in the system of a user for days before it has metabolized. For that reason, strong policies and supervision are required to manage impairment in the workplace.

Can violence-related workplace injury in health care be limited?

In June this year, a standing committee of the House of Commons tabled a report with several recommendations to address violence aimed at health care workers in British Columbia and across Canada. For decades, violence-related workplace injury victims had to handle it as par for the course, and the aim is to put a stop to that mindset. A report by the Canadian Federation of Nurses Union indicates that over 60% of nurses say they have been victims of harassment, assault and abuse while on duty.

Authorities say the intensity and number of attacks continue to grow. The report recommends a Criminal Code amendment by which the court must consider assault on a health care worker as an aggravating circumstance when sentencing an offender. Further recommendations include the upgrading of long-term health care facilities and staffing shortages.


- Authored by Brent MullinOn June 1, 2019, amendments to British Columbia's Employment Standards Act came into effect. These amendments not only expand certain employee rights and employer obligations under the Act, but also change the complaint and investigation process by which those rights and obligations are enforced.

Who pays for a casual worker's workplace injury?

While workers' compensation obligations are par for the course for British Columbia businesses with permanent employees, they also give rise to many questions for those who hire contractors or subcontractors. Who will be liable if a subcontractor suffers a workplace injury? Business owners can avoid having to pay additional insurance premiums by obtaining a clearance letter from WorkSafeBC that states whether the contractor is registered and paying workers' compensation premiums itself.

Business owners might not realize that although contractors have workers' compensation coverage for their workers, they might not be covered as proprietors or owners of the operation. This puts the business hiring the contracting company at risk of facing a lawsuit if the contractor suffers injuries in a workplace accident. Personal insurance protection for business owners is optional, and it might be a good idea to clarify this issue before the work commences.

Employment law: Harassment and bullying no longer in the shadows

The #MeToo movement brought workplace harassment and bullying to the attention of many. Safety professionals across Canada, including British Columbia, have revealed that bullying and harassment remain some of the most significant workplace hazards. WorkSafeBC was the first to make policy changes in 2012, by which harassment in the workplace became a recognized occupational injury that could cause compensable mental trauma.

In British Columbia, harassment and bullying is regarded as an occupational hazard. Employers are mandated to take reasonable steps to prevent it, along with workplace violence, and failure to protect workers is an offence. Specific procedures must be in place to deal with prevention, reporting and investigations into incidents. Supervisors and employers must respond appropriately to any reports filed by victims of these transgressions.

Workplace injury in construction zones rise in spring and summer

According to WorkSafeBC, activities on road construction sites in British Columbia increase significantly during the spring and summer months. This is also the time that puts road construction workers at increased workplace injury risks. Along with the typical dangers posed by the equipment these workers use in the course of their work, they are further threatened by traffic moving through the work zone.

WorkSafeBC is running the Cone Zone campaign from May through August. This campaign endeavours to raise awareness and emphasize the need to prevent construction zone accidents to ensure that every worker goes home safely at the end of each shift. WorkSafeBC reminds people that it is not only road workers and flaggers that are at risk. Tow truck operators, landscapers and first responders deserve the same consideration.

Employment law requirements when hiring employees

Hiring employees, either directly or through employment agencies, must comply with all applicable laws. In British Columbia, the BC Employment Standards Act protects the rights of employees by mandating that employees meet certain minimum standards with respect to terms of employment. 

Even if workers have agreed to non-standard employment contracts, whether written or verbal, the Employment Standards Act enforces minimum standards that cannot be circumvented using a contract. These standards include certain rules around work hours, minimum wage, vacation pay and time, and statutory holidays. Employers hiring employees must be mindful of these minimum standards even though some industries and positions may be exempt from portions of the Employment Standards Act.

How are workplace investigations handled in your workplace?

Increased media scrutiny around bullying, harassment, and other inappropriate conduct in the workplace has brought greater focus and attention on BC employers' Respectful Workplace policies and their internal procedures for dealing with employee complaints. WorkSafeBC requires all employers to not only take reasonable steps to prevent, or otherwise minimize workplace bullying and harassment, but to also develop and implement written procedures for workers to report incidents or complaints of workplace harassment and bullying. These procedures must include how, when, and to whom an employee should report incidents or complaints, including procedures in the event that the employee's supervisor or manager is the alleged bully and harasser. 

Workplace injury: Workers can refuse to work in unsafe conditions

Employers in British Columbia are responsible for the protection of the health and safety of their employees. Workers must be informed of the known hazards that pose workplace injury risks, and they should be given safety training to learn how to mitigate those hazards. Workers who are tasked with jobs in unsafe conditions have the right to refuse to do the work.

Employers who encourage their workers to report near misses and potentially unsafe circumstances benefit significantly from an up-to-date understanding of safety concerns on site. Regardless of the employer's policy or lack thereof for internally reporting safety concerns, workers have the right (and obligation) under worker's compensation legislation to report an unsafe work condition if necessary. When faced with an internal report of an unsafe work condition, it will then be the duty of the employer to assess the situation and take appropriate corrective action. Employers may not discipline workers who refuse to work due to a safety concern.

Employment standards violations lead to $310,000 payment to foreign workers

Employers in British Columbia are legally obligated to comply with employment standards and provide safe work environments. They must always honour workers' rights and protections. Following the disclosure of employment standards violations in a case in which a wealthy British Columbia family were found to have committed wage theft against 174 foreign workers, the Minister of Labour connected recent Employment Standards Act amendments with the prevalence of these kinds of complaints.

The payment order of the Employment Standards Branch arose from a third-party complaint submitted on behalf of a number of foreign workers recruited to work 40-hour work weeks for the entire six-month period of their contracts on an agricultural property. However, after one month of full-time work, the employees' work hours were significantly reduced. The Employment Standards Branch ordered the employer to pay back wages, vacation pay and interest. 

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