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Vancouver Employment Law Blog

British Columbia employment law focuses on keeping workers safe

Workers in British Columbia have the right to safe work environments. Employment law in Canada describes the roles of business owners, along with their rights and responsibilities. The law also mandates the responsibilities of employers, supervisors, contractors and workers.

Under the law, the primary responsibilities of business owners include providing safe workplaces and complying with prescribed occupational health and safety standards. They must also share information about potential hazards with employers and prime contractors to enable them to address the dangers. However, in cases in which the business owners are also the employers, they must comply with the responsibilities of both roles.

Employment law: Rights and responsibilities of employees

While it is true that employers in British Columbia are responsible for the health and safety of employees, workers also play a role in their own safety. Employment law mandates the rights and responsibilities of workers in all industries. Effective workplace safety requires all the involved parties to commit to their responsibilities.

Along with all their responsibilities, workers have three distinct rights. These include the right to be informed of all potential hazards, the right of participation in safety and health activities, and the right to refuse to do work that will threaten the worker's health or safety with no subsequent punishment. Workers must know that they also play essential roles in the safety of their co-workers.

Human Rights law: What constitutes retaliation?

Many workers' fear of losing their jobs may prevent them from filing human rights complaints at the BC Human Rights Tribunal against their employers when they encounter discrimination contrary to the protected grounds established under the BC Human Rights Code (the "Code"). However, employees in British Columbia are in fact protected against retaliation by employers under the Code.

But what type of action constitutes retaliation? Any change in normal work conditions for a worker who filed a human rights complaint or might file a complaint against an employer or supervisor could be viewed as retaliation, even if it does not involve termination. It is also unlawful to take action against an employee who provided evidence or otherwise supported a co-worker who filed a complaint.

Do you know your rights to compensation after a workplace injury?

Workers in British Columbia are entitled to financial assistance through the employer's WorkSafeBC insurance coverage. Coverage may extend to workplace injury caused by one event, as well as progressive conditions that result from exposure to chemicals or repetitive motions in a person's line of work over extended periods. 

Workers' compensation benefits typically cover applicable medical expenses, including medications, tests, equipment and treatment sessions. Workers whose injuries cause temporary disabilities that prevent them from working until they have recovered are entitled to temporary wage loss benefits. Permanent disability benefits are paid in cases where a work-related injury or illness causes a permanent disability that is likely to impair a worker's future earning capacity.

Are out-of-province workplace injuries covered by workers' comp?

Most workers find comfort in knowing that a workers' compensation program exists that will likely cover their medical expenses and lost wages if they should suffer workplace injuries. However, it is not unusual for companies to be based in British Columbia and send work crews on assignments in other provinces or territories. Such workers may have questions about their rights to benefits if they should fall victim to work-related accidents while working outside the province.

The most crucial first step after a work-related is to get the necessary medical care. WorkSafeBC advises injured workers to report their injuries to their employer and the worker's compensation body in the province where the worker is from, as well as the workers' compensation body of the province in which the injury occurred. The worker will then have the option to choose where to proceed with the benefits claim. 

Avoid wrongful termination claims -- obtain legal counsel

Employees in British Columbia must be treated fairly, during employment and upon termination of employment. Dealing with a wrongful termination lawsuit can be costly, and it is often preventable. Many employers seek legal counsel just before terminating employees.  However, employers may be able to avoid difficult termination lawsuits by reaching out to legal counsel even earlier. When employees are hired, their employment contracts should detail the employment terms and clearly set out both parties' obligations arising upon termination.

Canadian employment legislation prescribes each province's minimum termination standards, particularly with respect to matters such as termination pay. While smaller details may differ from province to province, each jurisdiction has laws that cover minimum notice of termination or payment in lieu of termination. Unlike employment laws south of the border, Canada does not have "at will" employment; instead, there is termination with cause and termination without cause.

Workplace injuries include occupational diseases

Workers in British Columbia who are exposed to hazardous or toxic substances in their workplaces might nor even notice the gradual damage this exposure causes to their health. In many cases, by the time workers are diagnosed with occupational diseases, the condition is already severe. Although workers' compensation covers work-related illnesses, they may be more difficult to prove for claims purposes than other workplace injuries.

For claims to be accepted, the illness must be a recognized occupational disease, meaning it must have a work-related cause. Also, the illness must have caused a disability that prevents the worker from earning a reasonable income (with certain exceptions). Full earning ability might prevent wage replacement benefits from being paid, but the worker might still be eligible for health care benefits.

Employment law prohibits discrimination in ads

Business owners in British Columbia must be careful with the wording for advertisements they post or print for jobs in their establishments. Any ad that expresses limitations, preferences or specifications related to protected characteristics under the BC Human Rights Code may constitute discrimination. A comprehensive understanding of the related requirements is essential.

Ads that may show a discriminatory preference for a certain group of people include, for example, ones showing an explicit preference for young workers without a justifiable reason. Compare this to the position of a translator requiring fluency in a specific language, or a job with an immigration organization that serves immigrants from a particular country and needs someone with an understanding of that country. If an employer can prove that the preference was a bona fide occupational requirement, it may not constitute discrimination.

Terminations: What Is "Just Cause"?

Employers may end employment of an individual at any time. Generally, there are two different types of termination of an employee: with cause or without cause. With cause, also known as just cause, means that there is a specific reason for the termination that is so serious it justifies termination.

In this situation, employers are not obligated to provide any compensation to the employee as long as they can prove the reason for the termination. However, there are certain criteria to be met in order to terminate employees with just cause.

Workplace safety is not necessarily on the mind of young workers

Many employers in British Columbia look to to employ young, inexperienced workers who are eager to prove themselves and keen to learn. However, not all business owners realize that young workers may also be distracted, with many non-work-related matters on their minds. As young workers acclimatize to the workplace, employers may find that they must spend more time training young workers on workplace safety than they would with older, more seasoned workers.

Young workers often take on different jobs each summer, gaining experience in a variety of positions that are relatively short-term. For this reason, they may consider themselves experienced, without fully appreciating that every job poses unique hazards. It is the responsibility of employers to make sure young workers learn about the dangers of their jobs, and also how to mitigate workplace hazards.

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