Canada: The Tail Wags The Dog: Federal Sector Employee Vetoes Employer`S Appointment Of Investigator

Last Updated: November 29 2016
Article by Stringer LLP

The integration of workplace violence and harassment protections into occupational health and safety legislation has been a theme in Canada for more than half a decade.  Although in Ontario most attention has been paid to significant amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, such as Bill 168 and the more recent Bill 132, legislation in other jurisdictions has also been amended to include provisions dealing with harassment and violence in the workplace.

The federal jurisdiction has enacted some of the most significant reforms.  The Canada Labour Code has regimented requirements for an employer dealing with a harassment complaint that go beyond what is seen in Ontario legislation.  The Code sets out specific procedures and requirements that require specific investigative steps and processes to be implemented by employers in certain situations.  In such instances, the Code requires that an employer appoint a person to investigate a complaint who is "seen by the parties to be impartial." 

A recent case brought into question whether an employee objecting to the appointment of an investigator due to their perceived impartiality is under an onus to justify their position.

In Maritime Employers' Association v CUPE, the complainant had made a complaint of harassment against a co-worker.  The employer appointed a consultant with which it was affiliated to investigate the allegations.  The complainant objected to that appointment, stating that he did not view the investigator as impartial.  The complainant alleged that due to previous discipline he had received from the employer, he would not consider anyone from the employer as impartial and demanded that a third party investigator is appointed.  The employer refused.

Ultimately, the employee filed a complaint with the federal Ministry of Labour.  The Ministry of Labour issued orders requiring that the employer appoint a third party investigator seen by the parties as impartial, effectively upholding the employee`s objection to the appointed investigator.

The employer appealed the Ministry`s orders to the Occupational Health and Safety Tribunal Canada.

The employer argued that the question of impartiality must be assessed on an objective basis.  In other words, the question ought to be whether a reasonable person would consider the investigator to be impartial, as opposed to a subjective test that would assess whether the particular party considered the investigator to be impartial.  The employer argued that its interpretation was the only one that would prevent employees from abusing the provision so as to dictate who could conduct an investigation.

The employee asserted that he did not have to justify his subjective opinion that the investigator appointed was not impartial.  In any event, he said that he had justified that opinion on the basis that he perceived any representative of the employer as biased due to his previous disciplinary history.

The Tribunal determined that the words of the legislature meant that the parties had to subjectively agree that the investigator was impartial.  It held that the legislature's words intended that the assessment of impartiality by the parties was to be subjective, and that it would be improper and contrary to the section to apply an objective standard.

The Tribunal also examined cases in which the objective test was used, such as when a judge or adjudicator is accused of appearing biased.  However, it found that that case law was not applicable to this section of the Code.

The Tribunal addressed the argument put forward by the employer that an employee could simply abuse this provision to block the appointment of investigators on the basis that they were suggested that an abuse of this process by an employee could be tantamount to a waiver of the right to an investigator mutually agreed upon by the parties as impartial.  However, the Tribunal did not suggest how this might be proven or might be effective in practice.

What Employers Should Know

Employers in the federal sector must be aware that, in meeting their obligations under the Code, employees have a wide subjective latitude to reject the appointment of investigators as biased.  An employee need not provide any reasons for their rejection of an investigator, and an employer likely only has recourse in cases where the rejection is clearly not in good faith.  Proving bad faith is particularly difficult.  This could lead to significantly more cost for employers, particularly in a case such as this one where the wholesale rejection of any member of the employer as an investigator would require the expensive step of retaining an external investigator.

The agreement of an employee to appoint an investigator is not a requirement under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act, even after the amendments introduced in Bill 132.  In fact, there is no requirement in the Occupational Health and Safety Act that a third party investigator ever be appointed in the context of a harassment complaint.

However, the new amendments allow an employee to complain to the Ministry of Labour if there is an alleged breach of a harassment policy because of the appointment of an investigator.  An inspector from the Ministry can then order the appointment of an investigator, which may be an expensive step.  As there are no reported decisions involving a Ministry of Labour inspector issuing an order to appoint a third party investigator, we do not yet have any guidance as to what factors may be involved in their exercise of this power.  However, this case suggests that, if the Ministry looks to the federal sector for guidance, employees' complaints about the investigators appointed to look into harassment complaints may not be subject to the scrutiny that one might expect.

It is important to note that as employer responses to harassment become more and more enshrined in legislation, there is less flexibility and control for employers to assure that they can effectively manage the investigation process.  This decision continues this trend and further erodes the ability of federal sector employers to respond in a flexible way to complaints of employee misconduct.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
 
In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.

Disclaimer

Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.

Registration

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.

Cookies

A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.

Links

This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.

Mail-A-Friend

If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.

Security

This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.