When I retire, can I keep health care benefits?

| October 18th, 2017 | No Comments »

Question:  I have been employed by the same company for 22yrs and am 63 yrs old. Health care benefits are provided by the company and reduced benefits were available if you are over 60 when you retire. It was announced recently that no benefits will be provided for people that retire after Dec 31/17. I was planning to work for a few more years. I do not have a formal contact.  Is this legal?

Answer: This is most likely illegal. Retiree health care benefits, if offered by an employer, are extremely important to retirees and their families. They could be considered a fundamental part of your compensation package and a form of deferred compensation for contributions that you have made to the company over the course of your career (i.e. like a long-term incentive plan). Since the retiree benefits were available to you until now, when you are on the cusp of retirement, you reasonably expected that these benefits would be available on retirement and arguably planned your affairs taking these benefits into account.

As such, unless you signed an employment contract or the employer had a written policy that you knew about, which specifically and clearly provided that the company had a right to amend or cancel the retiree benefits at any time, the company cannot simply take away this benefit, without providing proper notice to you.
In this case, you did not have a written employment contract (and I assume there is no policy), so the employer could not have reserved the right to eliminate the retiree benefit plan at any time. This means that the only way the employer could take away the retiree benefits from you while you are still working is by giving you “reasonable notice” of the change. Here, the employer proposes to put the changes into effect within mere months – this is not proper notice. The employer should have given you 18-24 months of notice if it wanted to make a significant change to your contract. You, therefore, have grounds to challenge the elimination of the benefits in December 2017 and a potential claim for constructive dismissal.

Refusing Unsafe Work In Ontario

| October 5th, 2017 | No Comments »

Workers in Ontario covered under the Occupational Health and Safety Act have a right to refuse, reasonably believed unsafe work that is not essential to the job. For instance, if working at high heights is essential to complete the tasks of the job, this cannot be reused if there is adequate safety equipment and regulations in place.

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, workers have a right to refuse unsafe work on the basis of:
1. equipment, machinery or devices that the worker is required to operate that is likely to endanger the worker or other around
2. the physical condition of the workplace itself posing a danger to the worker of any others around, which includes the likelihood that workplace violence will occur
3. any equipment, machine or device is not up to code under the Occupational Health and Safety Act

If a worker has a reason to believe that work required is unsafe due to any of the above, the worker must report this to their employer or supervisor, and that supervisor/manager must start an investigation immediately. The investigation must be done in the presence of a health and safety committee member that represents employees, if applicable, or the workplace health and safety representative. Further, during the investigation, the worker must be in a safe place as close as possible to the workstation, and available to the employer or supervisor for investigatory purposes. The worker also must receive regular pay during the investigation.

Upon the conclusion, if the investigation, the worker must be given the results, and any remedies implemented, if applicable. If the worker then still has a reason to believe the work is unsafe the employer, the worker, or a person on the behalf of the employer or worker must contact an inspector from the Ministry of Labour. The worker must remain at work during normal working hours in a safe place, and available to the inspector for investigatory purposes. Other workers must not be given the work or task refused unless the worker has been advised of the reason for refusal in the presence of a health and safety committee member that represents workers, or a health and safety representative.

The above guidelines are meant to educate workers on their basic right to refuse work believed to be unsafe. Refusals that are done in good faith cannot be subject to any reprisals from an employer, and workers have a duty to report any unsafe work immediately. For a comprehensive view of protection granted under refusal of unsafer work, refer to section 43 – 53 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (Ontario).

Three Rights Every Employee Should Know Regarding Health and Safety

| August 4th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

Health and Safety in the workplace is seen as a joint responsibility between the employer and employees. Glancing over the Occupational Health and Safety Act, for example, clearly defines duties for both employees and employers. Essentially, each party is required to remain vigilant: both play key roles in noticing and reporting unsafe working conditions. There are three rights that employees should know and exercise in order to remain in control of their health and safety in the workplace. These rights are:

  1. The Right to Know

There are certain standards that employees need to be provided in order to be aware and competent in workplace health and safety. This includes the right to attain safety information, training, supervision from competent individuals, and adequate instructions. For instance, employees are to be made aware of any hazardous material or substances within the workplace, and training for proper handling and use of protective gear.

  1. The Right to Refuse Unsafe Work

Under all jurisdictions in Canada, workers are permitted the right to refuse work when conditions are dangerous or may reasonably cause harm. This includes the condition of any equipment required for use, the physical condition of the workplace itself (building structure, lose wiring, etc), or the task itself providing the danger is not inherent within the job (ie. police, firefighting, etc).

Employees must report any danger and refusal to their immediate supervisor or manager, whichever present. This will require an initial investigation by the manager/supervisor to correct the danger. If the worker is not satisfied with the remedies implemented, then an investigation that involves a representative from the health and safety committee or the workplace health and safety representative (whichever applicable) will follow in the presence of the worker. If the worker still remains unsatisfied with the results of the investigation, a minister from the government may be contracted and an independent investigation will follow.

  1. The Right to Participate

Employers are required to implement joint health and safety committees with representatives for both the employer and employees on the committee. Depending on the number of workers at the workplace, employers may be required to have one workplace representative or a committee of 2 – 4 representatives. The committees are to identify any dangerous or hazardous workplace conditions, make recommendation for improvement of health and safety and also handle employee concerns and/or complaints. Representatives also have the right to participate in any health and safety investigations, establish training or educational programs and gather any information from the employer pertaining to safety.

Overall, these are the basic three rights any employee should be aware. These rights grant employees the knowledge and power to take responsibility of their own health and safety, which fulfils a very important objective and purpose of health and safety legislation.