Workplace Law Trends for 2022
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Welcome to 2020 Two! It’s hard to believe we’ve been living through a pandemic for nearly 2 years. Workplaces are beyond worn out, stress leaves and harassment complaints continue to increase, parents are juggling remote learning and limited activities for kids once again, and many workplaces struggle to find people to fill the roles. 

Yes, it’s all a bit of a mess, but out of crisis emerge new ways to approach issues and novel solutions to traditional problems. Here are our predictions for workplace law trends and changes in 2022.

#1 – Push for Hybrid and Remote Working

Studies over the last year are showing a deep disconnect between senior bosses and employees about preferred workplaces. Increasingly, employees want – and now expect – at least some remote work option, whereas senior levels of management are more likely to continue to see in-person work better for productivity, mentoring and focus.
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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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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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reasonable termination notice
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How much notice should you give your employee on termination? A recent decision of the Ontario Superior Court in Herreros v Glencore Canada reiterates that when calculating the period of reasonable notice owed to a wrongfully dismissed employee, it is the circumstances at the time of termination that matter. 

The rule comes from a decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal in Holland v Hostopia.com. It states: “Notice is to be determined by the circumstances existing at the time of termination and not by the amount of time that it takes the employee to find employment”. We blogged about the rule here and here in our updates about employment litigation during the pandemic. 
Continue Reading Reasonable Notice: An Opportunity Not A Guarantee

IDEL and Constructive Dismissal
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The Ontario Superior Court has ruled once again on the right of an employee to assert a constructive dismissal in light of the O. Reg. 228/20: Infectious Disease Emergency Leave (“the Regulation”) under the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA). In the latest decision, the court ruled that the Regulation does not preclude an employee from asserting a common law constructive dismissal. 

As discussed in previous posts, under the Regulation neither a reduction in the employees hours of work or wages constitute a constructive dismissal under the ESA if they occur during the COVID-19 Period. The COVID-19 Period keeps changing on us, but it currently runs from March 1, 2020 to September 25, 2021.  There have been conflicting decisions about whether the Regulation also removes an employee’s right to assert a constructive dismissal under the common law. 
Continue Reading Another Ruling on the IDEL and the Employee’s Right to Pursue Common Law Constructive Dismissal

severance and employer payroll threshold
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A new ruling from Ontario’s Divisional Court has changed which employees will be entitled to severance pay. While the law has been mixed, it was generally the case that the $2.5 million payroll threshold for the purposes of calculating severance pay applied to Ontario payroll only. The Divisional Court has now ruled that global payroll should be considered. 

What’s Severance Pay?

In Ontario, employers with a payroll of more than $2.5 million must, upon termination or severance of employment, pay severance pay to employees with five or more years of service. This aspect of the Ontario Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA) increases the legal minimums employers are required to pay to long service employees significantly. Under the ESA, notice of termination caps out at 8 weeks, whereas severance pay can be up to 26 weeks. 
Continue Reading Heads up Multinational Employers! A Change to the $2.5 Million Payroll Threshold Calculation.

IDEL and constructive dismissalsLast month we blogged about the  Ontario Superior Court’s decision in Coutinho v. Ocular Health Centre Ltd. (Coutinho) when the court ruled that an employee placed on Ontario’s Infectious Disease Emergency Leave (IDEL), established by O.Reg 228/20 (the Regulation), could still bring an action for constructive dismissal at common law. The plot has thickened with the release this month of a contradictory decision in Taylor v. Hanley Hospitality Inc. (Taylor).

In the Taylor decision, the court considered the same issue – is the employee precluded by the Regulation from bringing a claim for constructive dismissal under the common law, when their hours are reduced or eliminated as a result of the pandemic? While the court in Coutinho concluded no, the court in Taylor has concluded yes. 

Where does that leave us? Because these two decisions are from the same level of court, neither has more weight than the other for later judges who might be deciding cases on similar facts. When decisions of the same level conflict, we need a higher court to weigh in – in this case, that would be the Ontario Court of Appeal. 
Continue Reading Good News for Employers: A New Decision On Constructive Dismissal and the IDEL

Constructive Dismissal and the IDEL
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At long last, the impact of Ontario’s Infectious Disease Emergency Leave (IDEL) on employee constructive dismissal claims has been litigated. Employment lawyers have been speculating for a long while about how courts will treat the various employment pivots employers were required to make during the pandemic. We now have our first answer. 

Last week, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice released its decision in Coutinho v. Ocular Health Centre Ltd. and ruled that the IDEL does not take away an employee’s ability to sue for constructive dismissal. 

What’s Constructive Dismissal?

A constructive dismissal occurs when an employer unilaterally and substantially changes an express or implied term of the employee’s contract. The term also needs to have been essential. Changes regarding pay, duties, hours of work etc., can all potentially be constructive dismissals. 
Continue Reading An Important Ruling for Employers on Constructive Dismissal and the IDEL

vacation pay class actions
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Since 2019, there have been five proposed class actions against insurance companies and banks for failure to pay proper vacation pay to employees, both past and present. The total amount claimed in the aggregate of these five actions is around $1.2 billion. Royal Bank of Canada is a named party in three of the five actions; in one, it is facing a proposed $800-million class-action lawsuit involving thousands of advisors. Bank of Montreal and Allstate Insurance are also named in these class actions. A significant aspect of the allegations against these employers revolves around the calculation of their employees’ vacation pay. The issue is that for many of these employees, the majority of their compensation is and was made up of commissions and bonuses. Their vacation pay, however, was and continues to be based solely on their much lower base salaries.
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new tort of internet harassment
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In Caplan v. Atas, 2021 ONSC 670 the Ontario Superior Court has recognized a new tort of internet harassment or “harassment in internet communications” to be precise. Notably, there is no tort – meaning you cannot sue someone – for just plain old harassment. 

The facts of the Caplan case giving rise to this new tort involved some extreme, wide-reaching and long-lived behaviour on the part of the defendant, Ms. Atas. The case involved multiple plaintiffs, all of who had been victims of Ms. Atas’ online harassment campaigns. A family member of one plaintiff found “80,000 unique search results attributable to Atas, related to some 3,747 online posts, on 77 different web sites, directed against 150 different victims.” 
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