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Vancouver Employment Law Blog

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.

Employment law changes will affect low-wage earners in B.C.

We have previously written about a number of significant amendments to the British Columbia Employment Standards Act which have come into effect this year. Many of these amendments will affect low-wage earners in BC. The amendment with the most direct effect is a change to the minimum wage rate, aimed at assisting in providing economic security for many thousands of low-wage workers. An immediate increase will be followed by further adjustments over the next two years.

Other significant changes were made that will affect certain groups of generally vulnerable, low-wage earning workers, including adjustments that raised the minimum age of child workers in hazardous jobs from 12 to 16. Furthermore, new licensing and registry requirements were put in place for recruiters of migrant workers. Advocates believe this will put a stop to abuse of employment standards by way of indebtedness to recruiters, limited benefits and low wages.

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.

CHANGES TO B.C.'s EMPLOYMENT STANDARDS ACT

- 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.

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