ONCA upholds employer for-cause termination for sexual harassment
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Overview

In Hucsko v. A.O. Smith Enterprises Limited, 2021 ONCA 728, the Ontario Court of Appeal (ONCA) overturned the lower Court’s decision that found an employee had been wrongfully dismissed in relation to sexual harassment allegations and was awarded 20 months’ notice. In its reversal, the ONCA held that the employee had failed to fulfill remedial steps required by his employer; that he did in fact sexually harass his coworker; and that his for-cause termination was justified.  

Background

A senior, 20-year employee made several comments to his younger, female coworker on several occasions, including the following:
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Office holiday party and Covid-19 considerations
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Likely you’ve noticed that the holiday season is upon us! Often around this time of year, we’ve written a blog post about holiday office parties. Usually, these have revolved around topics like social host liability, drinking and sexual harassment. This year, many workplaces are eager to get the gang back together in person and have the additional consideration of COVID-19! What to do?!

Where to Party?

An easy option, which will allow employers to avoid having to reinvent the wheel, will be to have the holiday party at a restaurant. Restaurants know the local public health rules and you won’t have to ruin the night for your HR person by requiring them to be the mask police all night. Proof of vaccination is required to dine indoors in most jurisdictions and the restaurant will have a set-up for contract tracing and vaccination checks. 
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Arbitration Decisions on Mandatory Vaccination Policies
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This month has seen arbitral treatment of two mandatory vaccination policies in the context of unionized workplaces. In a grievance brought by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Canada, Local 333 against employer Paragon Protection Ltd., the arbitrator found that the employer’s vaccination policy was reasonable. In a grievance brought by the Power Workers’ Union (the “PWU”) against employer Electrical Safety Authority, the arbitrator found that it was not.

Paragon Protection’s Vaccination Policy

Paragon Protection Ltd. provides security services and employs 4,400 unionized security guards to hundreds of client sites across Ontario. Many of these client sites had vaccination requirements. Paragon gave its employees approximately two months notice that they would be requiring them to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Employees would report their vaccination status by way of a declaration. The policy allowed exemptions for human rights reasons on the basis of creed/religion and health. 
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Free webinar: Dealing with Harassment, Bullying, and Sexual Violence in the WorkplaceOctober is National Bullying Prevention Month. Harassment, bullying, and sexual violence in the workplace continue to persist. Last month, Western University dealt with several sexual assault allegations. What does this mean for employers?

Join SpringLaw’s Flo Vineberg and Emily Siu as they discuss sexual assault, harassment, and violence in the workplace, as well trauma-informed workplace investigations.

Date: Wednesday, October 20, 2021
Time: 10:30-11:00 am EST
Register: Click here!

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Bill 132 - Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Date
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In response to the provincial government’s March 2015 report entitled  “It’s Never Okay: An Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment,” the Ontario legislature passed Bill 132 – Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan in March 2016, which entered into force in September of that year. This Bill amended Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), establishing specific requirements with respect to sexualized harassment and violence prevention in Ontario’s workplaces. In turn, employers have since had additional responsibilities to understand, address and eliminate workplace sexual harassment and violence beyond previous measures. This requires sound and updated workplace policies, sufficient workplace training, and additional competencies to ensure compliance with the OHSA via, amongst other things, informed and diligent workplace investigations.
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Job Consequences for Employees Refusing Mandatory Vaccination
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We are getting lots of questions from employers and employees about vaccination. We addressed many of these questions a few weeks ago in our post Unvaccinated Employees and Mandatory Vaccination. Now that a little bit of time has passed, we are getting more questions about the possible job consequences for employees who are unvaccinated. 

Why is the Employee not Vaccinated?

Before considering what job consequences might be appropriate, it’s crucial for employers to understand the employee’s reasons for being unvaccinated. In rare circumstances, an employee may be entitled to a legitimate exemption from a mandatory vaccination policy. Employees who have legitimate exemptions based on medical or religious grounds will be entitled to protection from discrimination by human rights legislation. While it still may not be appropriate to allow an unvaccinated employee with a legitimate reason for an exemption from attending in person at the office, they will be entitled to accommodation. The range of accommodations is wide, from placing an employee on an unpaid leave of absence to allowing them to continue their work remotely. For more information on legitimate reasons for exemptions and accommodation, see our past post
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Unvaccinated Employees and Mandatory Vaccination
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Both employers and employees are asking questions related to mandatory vaccinations and consequences for employees who don’t get them. Here we run through some of those FAQs!

Q: If vaccinations are deemed to be “mandatory” for workers, are there any legal exemptions?

A: Yes, in some cases there will be legal exceptions to a job requirement that employees be vaccinated. These exceptions come from the Ontario Human Rights Code (the “Code”), which prohibits discrimination in employment based on protected grounds. The protected grounds likely to be engaged with respect to a vaccination requirement are disability and creed. If the exemption is based on a medical reason, it will fall under disability. Religious reasons will fall under creed.
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