Canada: Les employeurs peuvent-ils être tenus responsables de la perte de la couverture invalidité de leurs employés?

La réponse est oui. Ce risque touche principalement les employeurs qui offrent une assurance invalidité à leur personnel et mettent fin à l'emploi d'employés sans leur offrir de couverture invalidité pendant toute la période requise par la loi. Ils ont cependant plusieurs moyens à leur disposition pour éviter ce risque, tant avant l'entrée en fonction de leurs employés qu'avant la cessation de leur emploi.

Exigence de réparation intégrale

Sous réserve des exceptions provinciales et des dispositions contractuelles applicables, un employeur assujetti à une réglementation provinciale a le droit de mettre fin à l'emploi d'un employé sans motif s'il lui donne un préavis raisonnable. Il peut s'agir d'une période de préavis durant laquelle l'employé continuera de travailler, d'une indemnité tenant lieu de préavis ou d'une combinaison des deux. En cas d'indemnité tenant lieu de préavis, l'employeur doit toutefois indemniser intégralement l'employé pour toute la durée du préavis raisonnable.

Si un employé devient invalide au cours de la période de préavis et que son assurance invalidité n'a pas été conservée pendant toute la durée de cette dernière, un employeur peut-il être tenu responsable de la perte de sa couverture invalidité? La réponse est oui, tel qu'affirmé par la décision de la Cour d'appel de l'Ontario.

Dans l'affaire Brito v. Canac Kitchens, Canac Kitchens a mis fin à l'emploi de M. Olguin sans raison. Âgé de 55 ans au moment des faits, ce chef d'équipe avait accumulé 24 ans de service. La Cour a estimé que la période de préavis raisonnable en vertu de la common law dont il devait bénéficier était de 22 mois, au cours desquels l'employeur était tenu de l'indemniser intégralement.

Pendant son emploi chez Canac Kitchens, M. Olguin bénéficiait d'une assurance invalidité. À la cessation de son emploi, il a conservé sa couverture invalidité pendant les 8 semaines minimales prévues par la Loi sur les normes d'emploi de l'Ontario seulement, au lieu des 22 mois de préavis raisonnable.

Après ces 8 semaines, alors que la période de préavis raisonnable de 22 mois n'était pas encore écoulée, M. Olguin, atteint d'un cancer, a subi plusieurs opérations, un traitement de radio-chimiothérapie et une trachéostomie. Il a réclamé à Canac Kitchens, entre autres, des dommages-intérêts pour la perte de ses prestations d'invalidité.

Le principal enjeu pour la Cour consistait à statuer, en fonction de ce que prévoit la loi, sur la période allant de la date d'invalidité (dans le cas présent, le lendemain de la première opération du demandeur) à la fin de la période de préavis de 22 mois. Finalement, elle a conclu que Canac Kitchens devait payer la couverture relative aux prestations d'invalidité à court terme pour M. Olguin pendant 17 semaines, en plus de payer la couverture relative aux prestations d'invalidité à long terme jusqu'à son 65e anniversaire.

Aux fins de comparaison, les dommages-intérêts s'élevaient à environ 95 000 $ (auxquels il convient de soustraire les montants prévus par la loi et les revenus à titre de minimisation des dommages) pour perte de salaire et à plus de 200 000 $ pour la couverture relative aux prestations d'invalidité.

Comment gérer ce risque?

En prenant les quelques mesures suivantes, les employeurs peuvent limiter ce risque autrement qu'en se gardant d'offrir une assurance invalidité à leurs employés :

  1. Ils peuvent faire signer à leurs employés, avant leur entrée en fonction, un contrat de travail contenant des dispositions applicables en cas de cessation d'emploi. Celles-ci devraient notamment limiter le maintien des prestations (y compris des prestations d'invalidité) aux exigences minimales prévues par la législation applicable sur les normes d'emploi ou à une autre période convenant à l'employeur.
  2. Au moment de la cessation d'emploi d'un employé et de tout règlement en lien avec une telle fin d'emploi, les employeurs devraient demander aux employés concernés de signer une quittance complète et définitive. Ce document devrait, entre autres, dégager l'employeur de toute responsabilité en cas de perte de prestations d'invalidité.
  3. Les employeurs peuvent discuter avec leur assureur, le cas échéant, des options relatives au maintien de la couverture invalidité après la cessation d'emploi, y compris en cas de préavis travaillé ou d'indemnités tenant lieu de préavis. Ils peuvent prévoir cette mesure lors de l'établissement des régimes, sur une base permanente ou au cas par cas au moment de la cessation d'emploi d'un employé. Ils peuvent également mettre en place une couverture invalidité avec un autre assureur pour la période de préavis raisonnable, si l'assureur avec lequel ils font affaires refuse de verser des prestations d'invalidité pendant la période de préavis raisonnable.

Tous les employeurs n'ont pas la même tolérance au risque et chaque cessation d'emploi doit être évaluée au cas par cas. Selon les circonstances, le risque peut être minime ou considérable. L'affaire Brito nous rappelle à quel point il est important de rédiger avec soin ses contrats de travail et de faire des quittances complètes et définitives aux employés.

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