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Lawsuit claims overworking led to death of poultry factory employee

B.C.'s Employment Standards Act (ESA) states that "an employer must not require or directly or indirectly allow an employee to work excessive hours or hours detrimental to the employee's health and safety."

Additionally, unless the employer and employee have agreed to average the employee's work hours in order to determine entitlement to overtime wages, the employer must do the following (assuming the employee is covered by the ESA):

  • Pay the employee 1.5 times his or her regular wage for any time worked over eight hours a day
  • Pay two times the employee's regular wage for any time worked over 12 hours a day
  • Pay 1.5 times the employee's regular wage for any time worked over 40 hours a week

Complaints or indications of overworking employees should be heeded by employers not only to protect the health and safety of workers, but also to prevent potentially costly legal claims. Employers can seek advice from an experienced employment and labour relations lawyer to ensure that the workplace is safe and healthy and that overtime policies are in compliance with federal, provincial or territorial laws.

The issue of overworking an employee is the basis of a civil claim recently filed against a poultry processing company in Vancouver. Hallmark Poultry Processors Ltd. has been sued by the family of a worker who died in 2013, and the family claims that his fatal heart failure was due to his working 60 to 70 hours a week.

According to the lawsuit, the 40-year-old worker, who had a pre-existing heart condition, died after completing a 13-hour shift at the factory.

The family's claim refers to the ESA and its prohibition of excessive work hours and work hours that are detrimental to the health of employees. It relies on the common law of negligence.

To learn more about occupational health and safety in B.C., please see Overholt Law's OHS overview.

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