Forgotten Employee Rights: Overtime Pay for the Salaried Employee

| December 7th, 2016 | No Comments »

employee rights to overtime payIt’s hard to understand your employee rights. Many salaried employees believe they are not entitled to overtime pay.  This is a surprisingly common myth. There are a large number of salaried professionals who receive an annual salary, who work extremely long hours and never receive a dollar in overtime pay.   Many employees may leave a lot of money on the table each year without ever realizing it.

The reality is that unless you fall into an exempt occupational category, you are entitled to overtime pay.   Most salaried employees are entitled to overtime pay.  Federal and provincial employment standards legislation mandate that employers must provide overtime pay, regardless of whether you earn commissions, a base salary or an hourly rate. The manner in which you are paid has nothing to do with your eligibility for overtime pay.  Overtime pay for salaried employees is generally calculated by converting your annual salary to an hourly rate and overtime is paid at 1 ½ times the regular hourly rate for each overtime hour worked.

Employees who exercise managerial or supervisory functions or belong to certain exempt occupational groups are not entitled to statutory overtime pay.  That said, employees who bear the title of ‘manager’ or ‘director’, but who do not exercise supervisory or managerial functions, are still entitled to overtime pay.  It is not a valid justification for an employer to rely on a job title alone to avoid its overtime obligations.

Being entitled to overtime pay is one thing, but the practical hurdle is often proving the overtime hours. Most salaried employees do not have a system of tracking their hours of work, so overtime hours are often overlooked or difficult to prove after the fact.  The reality is, that even if you are a salaried employee, your employer bears the onus of tracking your overtime hours.  Even though it is the employer’s responsibility, you should be doing the same. Maintaining a daily time sheet on your own can validate the actual number of overtime hours you work in support of your overtime entitlement.

Overtime rules vary slightly by province. In Ontario, employees are entitled to overtime pay at time and a half, for hours worked in excess of 44 hours in a week.   In some provinces, employees are entitled to daily and weekly overtime.    You should check with the employment standards office in the province where you work to determine the overtime rules that apply to you.  Some employers may have overtime policies that are more generous than employment standards.  You should also review your employer’s overtime policy, if one exists, to determine if you may have additional rights or benefits under the policy.

 

Author: Jonquille Pak, Employment Lawyer

Holiday Party & Corporate Liability

| November 29th, 2016 | No Comments »

holiday party at workA staff holiday party is a great way of celebrating the holiday season.  It can also be an effective way of showing appreciation to employees.  These events can be lots of fun, but what many employers often forget is that they can attract unwanted liability. 

The most common types of legal issues employers face as a result of staff parties are related to harassment and alcohol consumption.  The following are brief guidelines that employers should carefully consider in order to create a fun-filled holiday celebration, while avoiding legal liability.

Harassment

An employer can be held liable for harassment, including sexual harassment, even if it occurs after hours at a staff social event.  The following are simple things that employers can do to not only help reduce the risk of harassment, but also the risk of liability if harassment does occur: 

  • Develop and circulate an anti-harassment policy that clearly states that it applies to all work functions, including all social events;
  • Members of management should be reminded that they are expected to set an example for other employees during workplace functions;
  • Invitations for a holiday party should include a reminder that the anti-harassment policy extends to the event;
  • Consider inviting non-employees to the event.  The presence of customers, suppliers, or significant others can help reduce the occurrence of harassment or offensive behaviour;
  • Take steps to limit the consumption of alcohol;
  • Anti-harassment training should have fact scenarios that include work social events; and
  • Have an action plan ready in the event of an incident of harassment, and be prepared to implement it. 

Realistically, employers may not be able to fully control how guests behave at social events.  However, they can certainly avoid being held responsible for another guest’s conduct if they take proactive steps to help prevent the conduct, and if they take appropriate and swift action in response to inappropriate conduct.

Alcohol Consumption

The consumption of alcohol at a work function can lead to undesirable conduct by guests.  One of the main concerns employers should have is being held liable for injuries or damages caused by an intoxicated guest.

A social host is not typically liable for injuries/damages resulting from a guest who has consumed alcohol at the host’s residence.  However, employers are not ordinary social hosts.  The case law in Canada suggests that employers who host staff holiday party owe a duty of care to their employees which is closer to that of a commercial host.  Consequently, an employer who hosts a party has a greater duty to protect intoxicated individuals and the public than a social host. 

To help reduce the risk of liability arising from an intoxicated guest’s actions, employers should be following these simple tips:

  • Only serve a reasonable amount of alcohol to every guest.   Effective methods include the issuance of a set amount of drink tickets per guest, and limiting the period during which alcohol is served;
  • Do not provide open access to alcohol; 
  • Hire certified, licensed and insured professionals to look after the distribution of alcohol;
  • Serve food at the event;
  • Prevent “binge drinking” by discouraging/prohibiting drinking games;
  • Offer a selection of non-alcoholic beverages;
  • Hold the event off-site at a licensed and insured establishment;
  • Appoint members of management to monitor alcohol intake by guests, warn people against driving intoxicated, and to arrange taxis for intoxicated guests;
  • Provide paid transportation to and from the event for all guests; Invitations to the event should include a statement discouraging drinking and driving and excessive alcohol consumption.  Similar announcements should be made regularly throughout the event;
  • Do not conduct any business at the event; and
  • Avoid drinking with employees at other sites after the conclusion of the social event.

If an employer wishes to throw a staff party without having to worry about liability, it should refrain from cutting corners at the organizational stage.  Careful and thoughtful preparation is the key to a successful and liability-free event.

Is an Employee Obligated to Provide an Employer ‘Reasonable Notice’ of Resignation?

| November 23rd, 2016 | No Comments »

notice of resignationIt is well known that employers must give an employee ‘reasonable notice’ or pay in lieu upon termination when there is no just cause (i.e. the employee has not done anything wrong to be fired). Conversely, although rarely pursued, an employer has the right to receive ‘reasonable notice’ from an employee planning to resign. Below, the factors for determining ‘reasonable notice’ time for employees will be reviewed with reference to a relatively recent case by the Ontario Supreme Court case [Gagnon v. Jesso ONSC] (referred to as “Jesso”).

Reasonable Notice

For employees, ‘reasonable notice’ is the period of time an employee is required to give their employer before the date they wish to resign. The amount of ‘reasonable notice’ time required from an employee will vary with respect to the importance of the employee’s position and duties. The purpose of ‘reasonable notice’ is to grant the employer enough time to either replace the employee or to adjust in a way that would avoid substantial financial losses. In general, employees with managerial responsibilities are required to provide longer notice periods; however, employees in key non-managerial roles may also be require to provide comparable notice time. Jesso highlighted the relevant factors to consider, which include: the employee’s length of service and the difficulty the employer will face with replacing the employee’s skillset (i.e. the labour market conditions). If applicable, any unique circumstances that would result in the employer needing added time to adjust must also be factored into the notice time.

Jesso Example: 

To illustrate the factors considered in determining “reasonable notice”, consider the example of Jesso v. Gagnon. Gagnon is a heating and cooling company (owned by Pierre Gagnon), and Jesso was a salesperson for nearly 10 years with a mechanical engineering degree. Jesso and his sales partner were responsible for over 60% of the company’s sales, and ultimately, a significant source of Gagnon’s revenue. Jesso eventually resigned after strained relations with his employer. Further, Jesso knew that his sales partner was also planning to resign around the same time, since both were pursuing employment with the same competitor.

Initially, Jesso gave Gagnon 2 weeks of notice but the court ruled that reasonable notice in this case would be 2 months. This is not a trivial amount of notice time. Firstly, Jesso’s length of service with Gagnon did contribute to the 2-month required notice time. The most important factor, however, was his substantial skillset, which is indicated by Jesso’s sales performance. Gagnon could not quickly replace the performance gap that Jesso’s resignation would cause. This was due to Jesso’s skillset in itself, as well as the low availability of comparable employees within this industry – these factors contributed to the length of time Gagnon would need to replace or adjust to Jesso’s resignation. Lastly, there was the issue of Jesso knowing that his sales partner was also resigning near the same time. This was a special circumstance that would add to Gagnon’s difficulty in adjusting to this loss as Jesso and his sales partner contributed to over 60% of Gagnon’s sales.

It is important to understand that the above example is a simplified generalization used to apply the relevant factors for determining reasonable notice for employees. Each case will be influenced by the particulars of the employment relationship and surrounding circumstances. Jesso makes this point clear, as any unique circumstances that may create more difficult for the employer to adjust or replace the employee must be considered. Please seek the advice of an employment law professional if faced with a similar situation.

What to do about Bullying in the Workplace

| November 17th, 2016 | No Comments »

bullying in the workplaceBullying was unacceptable when you were a kid on the playground.  It is no different that you are adult in the workplace.  Whether it is your co-worker or your boss, it is not allowed.  If you experience bullying at work, you can confront the bully.  If you are not comfortable doing that (perhaps because your boss is the bully), consider contacting a human resources representative, a member of the company’s joint health and safety committee, or your boss’ boss.  It is also important to review any discrimination / harassment / bullying policies and complaint processes that applies in your workplace, as this will help guide your path.

Usually, the complaint should be handled by someone objective (not the person you complained about), and both you and the person you are complaining about will be given an opportunity to explain what happened.  Occupational health and safety legislation sets out certain basic requirements for harassment investigations.

Since bullying can often be difficult to prove, do your best to keep track of instances of bullying – keep emails where the bully’s tone was unreasonable, keep doctors notes regarding any impact the bullying has had on you, and create a journal listing the details of every time you felt bullied – details like where it happened, when it happened, who witnessed it, and what exactly what was said.  Try to describe the event in a fair and objective way.  These steps will help to ensure that your complaint is taken seriously.

If none of those private options work, consider contacting the Ministry of Labour.  If the company does not fulfill its basic obligations to investigate, an inspector from the Ministry can appoint an investigator, at the company’s expense, to ensure that your complaint is investigated and that it is done properly.

Of course, you can also seek legal advice at any time.  Depending on the nature of the bullying, the company could be liable for, among other things, constructively dismissing you, breaching your human rights, or intentionally inflicting mental distress on you.

Author: Stephen Wolpert, Whitten & Lublin

Can an Employee seek damages for promises made before the employment relationship commenced?

| November 14th, 2016 | No Comments »

employmentA company has a duty of care with respect to information conveyed to potential employees during the course of an interview. This extends to hiring managers, human resource representatives and/or any employees chosen to conduct interviews or represent the company during the hiring process. As such, any significant information that the interviewee relied upon in making their decision to accept an employment offer may be subject to future tort claims of negligent misrepresentation. A long-standing precedent of Queen vs. Cognos Inc. [SCC] (1993) illustrates the relevant principles well.

Cognos Inc. was a computer software company located in Ottawa that was seeking an employee for the development of accounting software. Queen was the candidate that accepted this job offer. Queen was a chartered accountant and previously held a secure managerial role in Calgary. During the interview, the manager of Cognos Inc. maintained that the company was developing new accounting software and that the position would be needed to develop the product over the course of two years, with ongoing improvements and maintenance needed afterwards. However, Queen was not told that funding for this project had not yet been approved and that the position was contingent upon budgetary approval. Queen accepted the employment offer and was terminated in less than a year and a half due to a lack of funding committed to the project. Queen was awarded damages for the tort claim of negligent misrepresentation (over $67 000: $50 000 for lost income, $11 972 for losses of the purchase and sale of his new home in Ottawa, and $5000 for emotional stress).

What did the Hiring Manager do Wrong?

First and foremost, the hiring manager was in a “special relationship” with the employer, obligating the hiring manager to a duty of care to interviewees. This means the manager must fairly represent the position to the interviewee on behalf of the company. The issue was not whether the hiring manager was untruthful – the manager may or may not have known about the budgetary contingencies regarding the existence or security of the position.  However, it is reasonable for the manager in this instance to enquire about the project funding in order to convey accurate information to Queen regarding the existence of the position. This was therefore negligent misrepresentation as Queen was given misleading information which he relied upon in making his decision to accept the employment offer. In particular, it was the nature and existence of the position that was misrepresented as Queen was led to believe that there would be ongoing work. This was not the case as the funding required was never approved.

Employers must therefore make sure hiring managers are made aware of significant information pertaining to the nature of the employment being offered. Further, it is important that hiring managers are made aware of their duty to fairly represent positions to potential employees on the company’s behalf. If you feel you are an employee that was unfairly misled in accepting an employment offer, and now face undeserving consequences as a result, please schedule a legal consultation.

What You Can Do About A Hostile Work Environment

| October 14th, 2016 | No Comments »

Hostile Work EnvironmentA hostile work environment is distressing for employees and costly for employers. Fortunately, the law provides many ways to combat and prevent hostile work environments.

An employee who is subject to a hostile work environment because of his or her race, sex, age, disability, family status, or any other trait listed in Ontario’s Human Rights Code, may be able to file a claim at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. The Tribunal hears claims related to hostile work environments that are rooted in employee’s protected traits.

An employee who is punished because they reported a hostile work environment to their employer can file a complaint to the Ministry of Labour under Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act. Health and safety law also says that employers must protect employees from workplace harassment which can lead to a hostile work environment. Employees must also have a way to report allegations of harassment, and employers must investigate each employee’s allegation of harassment.

If a hostile work environment makes it intolerable for the employee to report to work, the employee may be able to quit their job and claim constructive dismissal. A constructive dismissal occurs where an employee has been treated so poorly that they are forced out of their job as if they had been fired. The employee quits, but then claims the payments that they would have been entitled to from the employer if the employee had been fired. A constructive dismissal can take place where an employer takes part in creating the hostile work environment, or where an employer does not prevent a hostile work environment.

Employees should not be too quick to quit and claim constructive dismissal, though. Constructive dismissal is very difficult to prove. Where an employee claims to have quit because of the employer’s actions, or lack of action, related to a hostile work environment, the employee must prove that it was intolerable for them to continue working, and would have been intolerable for any reasonable person in their position.

If your employer is simply upholding a reasonable workplace rule or policy, this will usually not be considered a hostile work environment. For example, if you are suspended because you were continuously late to work in violation of your employer’s lateness policy, your suspension would probably not be unlawful.

If you feel that you have been subject to a hostile work environment, you should speak with an employment lawyer before taking any action.

 

Author: Simone Ostrowski, Whitten & Lublin

Two Years of Severance Awarded to Dedicated Employee

| September 26th, 2016 | No Comments »

severanceDaniel Lublin was once again successful in obtaining one of the lengthiest severance awards for an employee in Ozorio v. Canadian Hearing Society.

The Court awarded our client 24 months payment of salary and benefits following her termination and entirely accepted our position that even with our client’s competence and experience she would have a difficult time obtaining a similar job.  The Court accepted our position that 30 years of service and a dismissal at age 60 ought to result in a significant severance payment and mentioned that our client was justified in declining a 1 year severance package which the employer ought to have known was insufficient.

With respect to our client’s dedicated service the Court concurred that her lengthy period of employment was likely to be a serious impediment in finding another job.  Specifically, having virtually no work experience outside of that obtained through her former employer placed our client at a competitive disadvantage in obtaining new employment.

Further, this was yet another Whitten & Lublin decision where the Court agreed with our view that an employee 60 years of age or older must be entitled to greater severance.  The Court cited our past cases of Hussain v. Suzuki Canada Ltd. and Leeming v. IBM Canada Ltd. to confirm that “age is an impediment” for older worker’s seeking new employment.  Simply, the job market is difficult for older workers competing with younger, more recently trained and likely less expensive talent.

If you have been dismissed consider consulting the experts at Whitten and Lublin for an informed assessment of your severance.

Author: Paul Macchione, Whitten & Lublin

The Danger of Social Media in the Workplace

| September 16th, 2016 | No Comments »

social mediaSocial media has become the driving force of most workplaces.  Just a short time ago, it was barely on a company’s radar as a means of driving production or sales; it was commonly viewed as a nuisance to be avoided in the workplace, dismissed as a means for depraved millennials to get the company into trouble.

Today, social media is seen in a much different, far more positive light by most forward-thinking organizations.  Now companies use LinkedIn to track new recruits; salespeople pump their Facebook contacts to find leads; Twitter has become an effective (and free!) advertising tool.  Even formerly fringy operations like Instagram and Snapchat have found in a legitimate home in offices around Canada.

Despite the power of social media to disseminate and promote, it can still expose companies to potential workplace transgressions – often in the blink of an eye.  Employees have an easy means of speaking without authority on behalf of their employer, posting unfortunate work-related photos of themselves, using social media to of publicly vent about their boss, and so on.

For these reasons, it’s become imperative for workplaces to have a well-drafted social media policy emphasizing the Do’s and Don’ts for employees and contractors who work with their company.  By doing so, companies can ensure employees understand how to communicate effectively using social media – both within and outside the workplace – and what the consequences could be if they don’t use it properly.

 

Author: Daniel Chodos, Whitten & Lublin

Important Internship Laws for Employers and Interns

| September 8th, 2016 | No Comments »

internshipsIn 2014, Ontario’s Ministry of Labour conducted an inspection blitz in connection with unpaid internships.  Of the 56 companies investigated, the Ministry issued 36 orders regarding non-compliance with the Employment Standards Act, 2000.  The inspection underscored the unlawful manner in which unpaid interns are being used across the province.

The default law in Ontario that applies to interns is that a person who conducts work is entitled to be compensated accordingly.  This principle encompasses laws regarding minimum wage, vacation, hours of work, public holidays, notice of termination, and so on.  As a general rule, this means that unpaid internships are illegal.

The Ministry of Labour has stated six rules that apply to unpaid internships, all of which must be satisfied in order to avoid reprimand:

  1. The intern must receive training that is similar to that which would be provided in a vocational school;
  2. The training is for the benefit of the intern, i.e. through acquiring knowledge and skill;
  3. The employer derives little benefit, if any, from the activity of the intern;
  4. The intern’s training does not take away someone else’s job;
  5. The employer does not promise the intern a job at the end of the internship; and
  6. The employer has told the intern that they will not be paid for their time.

Points 2 and 3 are particularly important.  The focus is not simply on what the intern is doing, but also on what they are receiving from the internship.  Similarly, point 6 requires the employer to confirm in advance of the internship that there will be no compensation, rather than remain silent on the point, or confirm at a later stage.

Employers who do not strictly abide by these rules may find themselves liable for an intern’s salary, overtime, vacation pay, public holiday pay, notice of termination, and other employment standards entitlements.

An exception to this rule applies to students enrolled in a program approved by a university or college of applied arts and technology.  When in doubt, the employer should compensate the intern as if they were an employee.

 

Author: Marc Kitay, Whitten & Lublin

Accommodating Mental Illness in the Workplace

| August 23rd, 2016 | No Comments »

Accommodating mental illnessAccommodating mental illness is an extremely complex area for employers to navigate.  Unlike physical disabilities, the need for a mental health accommodation is often difficult to detect, and the employee’s medical prognosis can often be less predictable than a physical disability.   An employee may also be reluctant to ask for accommodation due to fear of stigma associated with mental illness.  However, employees are legally protected against discrimination or harassment on account of a disability, including a mental health disability.  In fact, employers have a legal duty to accommodate mental illness in the workplace.

When does Mental Illness Trigger a Duty to Accommodate?

Some mental health problems do not rise to the level of a recognized disability under human rights legislation.  For instance, a generalized complaint of ‘stress’ in the workplace, does not on its own amount to a disability.  There must be at least a diagnosis of some recognized mental disability, or clinically-significant symptoms, as identified from a health professional.  Examples of recognized mental health disabilities include generalized anxiety disorder, depression, alcohol addiction, or drug addiction. This is by no means an exhaustive list.

A diagnosis of a mental illness does not automatically trigger a duty to accommodate.  Many mental illnesses may be successfully managed or treated without the need for a workplace accommodation.  The duty to accommodate a mental illness is only triggered if there are work-related needs arising from the disability.

How is an Employer Required to Accommodate Mental Illness?

Accommodating mental illness can take a variety of different forms, such as a reduced work schedule, a leave of absence, or modified work duties.  Accommodations are meant to enable the employee to meaningfully participate and integrate into the workplace.  There is no single solution for accommodating mental illness.  Each case requires an individual assessment of the worker’s job requirements, their medical restrictions and needs.

Who gets to decide on the Accommodation?

The employer is not required to implement the employee’s preferred or ideal accommodation.  The obligation is only to implement a reasonable accommodation, considering the employer’s business operations and the employee’s medical restrictions as described by objective medical documentation. Even though the employee’s preferences are not decisive, accommodation is a two way street and should generally involve a dialogue with the employee, and the employer should take the employee’s input into consideration.

What if it is Not Feasible to Accommodate the Employee’s Disability?

The employer has a legal duty to accommodate to the point of “undue hardship”.  Accommodation often entails some inconvenience, cost or disruption to an employer, and these concerns are not necessarily an adequate justification against accommodation.   Speculative or anecdotal concerns about cost, health and safety or employee morale are not adequate excuses for refusing to accommodate mental illness. Concrete and objective evidence of undue hardship must be provided.   According to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, the cost standard should be a high one and in order to prove undue hardship, an employer should prove that costs are “so substantial that they would alter the essential nature of the enterprise or affect its viability.”

What are the Employee’s Responsibilities?

An employee seeking a mental health accommodation has a duty to cooperate in the accommodation process. This means that the employee should notify their employer of the disability and their accommodation needs, to the extent possible.   This includes sharing necessary medical information for the purposes of implementing an accommodation.

In many cases, the mental health disability itself my impact the employee’s decision-making, their ability to disclose, seek treatment or cooperate in the accommodation process.  When an employee is unable or refuses to disclose their accommodation needs, this makes implementing an accommodation particularly challenging for an employer.  In some instances, if the employee is able to reasonably communicate their accommodation needs but refuses to, the employer may not be required to accommodate the employee.

However, if an employer reasonably suspects that an employee may be suffering from mental illness and may need accommodation, the employer has a legal duty to inquire and assess the need for a possible workplace accommodation.   It is not a sufficient defence that the employer was unaware of the employee’s accommodation needs, when the employer ought reasonably to have known that the employee has a disability.

Can an Employer Ask for Objective Medical Information?

There is a fine balance between protecting an employee’s right to privacy of their medical information and the employer’s right to know the employee’s medical needs.  An employer is entitled to ask for objective medical documentation confirming the worker’s medical restrictions and the expected duration of the medical restrictions.  A one-liner handwritten note from a physician may not be sufficient to provide a reliable diagnosis of a mental illness, and the employer may be entitled to more specific information pertaining to the employee’s health condition.  However, the worker is not required to disclose detailed diagnosis or treatment information if that information is not necessary for the purposes of implementing an accommodation.

The employer is required to keep medical information confidential, and keep it on a needs to know basis for the purposes of handling an accommodation.  For instance, information pertaining to medical restrictions may need to be shared among certain human resources personnel and the employee’s supervisor(s), who may be required to implement the workplace accommodation.

 

Author: Jonquille Pak, Whitten & Lublin