Canada: Jail Time And Fines Are Always On The Table For Workplace Health And Safety Violations

Last Updated: June 18 2019
Article by Maciej Lipinski

Most Read Contributor in Canada, July 2019

The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) sets the rules that businesses in Ontario must follow to ensure the health and safety of their workers. It also sets the penalties that apply when these rules are broken.

These penalties can be significant, including fines of up to $1.5 million per offence for corporations, plus fines of up to $100,000 per offence and jail time up to 12 months for individual company directors. In its recent decision in Ontario (Labour) v. New Mex Canada Inc., 2019 ONCA 30 (New Mex) the Ontario Court of Appeal considered when and how these more significant penalties are to be applied.

The good news? The decision in New Mex provides added clarity to sentencing principles under the OHSA, such that business owners will know what to expect in the event of a contravention. On the other hand, the Court of Appeal also recognized that all options are always on the table for egregious violations — even for first-time offenders.

In other words, the fact that an employer company or its directors receive a significant fine does not preclude its directors from also serving a jail sentence.

The facts in New Mex surrounded a workplace fatality that involved a worker who fell from an order picker after having an epileptic seizure. Operating the order picker required the employee to stand on a small, elevated platform, and the employer was aware of the worker's condition. Despite this, the worker was not wearing safety equipment such as a harness or tether or received fall-prevention training when he suffered a seizure and fell headfirst to the ground.

The employer company pleaded guilty to multiple charges brought against it under the OHSA, including failure to provide information, instruction, supervision and safety measures to ensure the worker's protection. Two individual directors of the employer company also pleaded guilty to similar offences. Each of the defendants were first-time offenders under the OHSA.

The sentencing court imposed a total fine of $250,000 on the employer company, and sentenced each of its two directors to serve an intermittent 25-day jail sentence alongside 12 months' probation. As the employer company was a small, closely-held company, it was noted that any fines against the company would likely be paid by the individual director defendants themselves. The prison sentences were therefore intended to alleviate the financial burden that would result from imposing fines against both the company and the directors. In other words, the sentencing court treated fines and jail time under the OHSA as if they were interchangeable.

The sentences were appealed to a provincial offences appeals court, which reduced the fines imposed against the employer company down to $50,000 and set aside the jail sentences against the individual directors — substituting fines of $15,000 per director.

That decision was further appealed by the Crown to Ontario's Court of Appeal.

In its decision, the Court of Appeal upheld both the reduction in fines against the company and the decision setting aside the jail sentences against the directors. In doing so, however, the Court of Appeal also set out the following principles to be applied to future sentencing under the OHSA:

  • Imprisonment constitutes a significant penalty under the OHSA and should be reserved for significant offences;
  • Imprisonment is also not a substitute for fines, regardless of a defendant's financial hardship; and
  • Even first-time offenders under the OHSA may be sentenced to jail time if their offence is sufficiently egregious.

In the Court of Appeal's view, the actions of the directors leading to the employee's death in New Mex had been "outrageous" and "blithely ignorant to their obligations." Despite this, imposing prison sentences against the directors based on financial hardship alone amounted to an error in law, and the prison sentences therefore could not stand. Had the sentences been instead imposed to punish the directors' failure to comply with the basic requirements of the OHSA, those sentences likely would have been considered "entirely fit" and upheld. The Court of Appeal also commented that the $50,000 fine against the company, while not demonstrably unfit, nevertheless represented a "lenient" amount.

For companies doing business in Ontario, the decision in New Mex is an important reminder of the severity of penalties that can impact both corporations and their directors in response to egregious violations of the OHSA. Such violations can range from failures to provide proper safety equipment and training, to failures to provide adequate protections from workplace violence and harassment. The sentencing principles set out by the Court of Appeal in New Mex provide a definitive set of rules when it comes to determining these penalties, but also affirms that all options are always on the table. Jail sentences are available even for first-time offenders and, according to the Court of Appeal, may be particularly appropriate where employers are determined as having shown obvious disregard for workplace health and safety.

The sentencing principle that remains unchanged by New Mex, however, is courts' overriding interest in ensuring compliance with the OHSA. Despite these new developments, it remains the case that employers who do what it takes to comply in the present will always be better off if they find themselves facing a court in the future.

About BLG

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

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

Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
In association with
Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

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 or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq 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 of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions