Le projet de règlement sur les agences de placement de personnel est publié

En avril 2018, nous vous informions que le projet de loi 176 modifiant la LNT (en vigueur depuis le 12 juin 2018) allait avoir des conséquences pour les agences de placement. De nombreux détails demeuraient toutefois en suspens jusqu’à l’adoption d’un règlement venant préciser les modalités d’application de ces nouvelles dispositions.

En date du 10 avril 2019, le Ministre du travail du Québec a publié son projet de Règlement sur les agences de placement de personnel et les agences de recrutement de travailleurs étrangers temporaires. Sujet aux commentaires reçus par le Ministre, le règlement pourra être édicté dans un délai de 45 jours. Il est donc possible d’imaginer qu’il soit applicable à la fin mai 2019.

Entre autres choses intéressantes, mentionnons que la notion d’agence de placement de personnel est finalement définie. Contrairement à ce qu’avait indiqué l’ancienne Ministre du travail lors des débats parlementaires entourant l’adoption du projet de loi 176, la définition proposée dans le règlement ne fait aucune mention du caractère temporaire des besoins en main-d’œuvre de l’entreprise cliente. On propose donc qu’une agence de placement de personnel soit : « une personne, société ou autre entité dont au moins l’une des activités consiste à offrir des services de location de personnel en fournissant des salariés à une entreprise cliente pour combler des besoins de main-d’œuvre ».

Toutes les conditions d’obtention d’un permis d’agence de placement de personnel, à être délivré par la CNESST, sont aussi énumérées. Les droits exigibles sont de 1 780 $ annuellement, en sus du versement d’un cautionnement de 15 000 $ lors de la demande initiale de permis. Ce cautionnement vise à garantir l’exécution d’un éventuel jugement obtenu à la suite de l’exercice, par la CNESST, d’un recours entrepris en vertu de la LNT.

Les acteurs du secteur vont certainement prendre le temps de bien analyser le projet de règlement et de soumettre leurs commentaires au Ministre dans les délais imposés. Nous vous tiendrons évidemment au courant des développements à mesure qu’ils surviendront.

New code of practice for managing the mental health of FIFO workers

The Western Australian Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety, in conjunction with the Commission for Occupational Safety and Health and the Mining Industry Advisory Committee, has released a Code of Practice “Mentally healthy workplaces for fly-in fly-out (FIFO) workers in the resources and construction sectors” (Code).[1]  The Code recommends implementing a risk-based approach to prevent and manage harm from psychosocial hazards and risk factors in the workplace.

The Code is the first of its kind in Australia, and follows on from a research report provided to the WA Mental Health Commission in September 2018.[2] The aim is to provide guidelines for establishing, monitoring and maintaining the mental health of FIFO workers. Although it is targeted at the resources and construction sectors in Western Australia, the Code is relevant to any employer with a FIFO workforce or a long distance commuting workforce, and therefore provides a useful model for many employers across Australia.

The Code also highlights the importance of a mentally healthy workplace and the importance of leadership and workplace culture in developing and maintaining a mentally healthy workplace.

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New whistleblowing laws require a compliant policy

Amendments to the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) and the Taxation Administration Act 1953 (Cth) take effect from 1 July 2019 ushering in significant changes to Australia’s whistleblowing laws.[1] Chief among the key changes is a requirement on public companies and large proprietary companies[2] to have a compliant whistleblowing policy by 1 January 2020. A failure to have such a policy will be a criminal offence attracting a maximum penalty of $126,000.

As it is unlikely existing whistleblowing policies will be fully compliant with the new whistleblowing regime, it is important that organisations review their current arrangements for dealing with whistleblowers and make appropriate changes to their policy and process.

Importantly, while not all companies are obliged to have a whistleblowing policy, they must comply with the new laws, particularly their obligations to maintain confidentiality and take reasonable steps to prevent detrimental conduct towards a whistleblower. Having a policy will assist these companies to comply with such obligations, which come into effect from 1 July 2019, and also accords with best practice.

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Marie Boland’s Review of the Work Health and Safety Laws, Part 2: current status of industrial manslaughter provisions around Australia

As reported in an earlier article on this blog, Marie Boland (former Executive Director of SafeWork SA) undertook the first review of the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws and delivered her report on 25 February 2019 (Report).

The Report concluded that the model WHS laws are operating as intended and the “three-tier framework” (the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act, model WHS regulations and the model Codes) was effective and widely supported as being flexible enough to accommodate the changing nature of work.

Of the 34 recommendations in the report, the recommendations concerning the introduction of an industrial manslaughter offence and addition of ‘gross negligence’ to the category 1 offence, were the subject of our previous article.

The national WHS Ministers are expected to respond to the Report’s recommendations later this year.

In addition to the Report’s recommendation, the Senate (Education and Employment References Committee) inquiry into industrial deaths report from October 2018 (Senate inquiry report) also recommended the introduction of an industrial manslaughter offence.  The Senate inquiry report states that the committee were of the “…strong view that there needs to be a nationally consistent industrial manslaughter provision introduced into the model WHS legislation” and that the Queensland model was “…worthy of consideration” for drafting purposes.

In that context it is useful to briefly review the current position around Australia with respect to industrial manslaughter offences.  Queensland’s industrial manslaughter offence, contained in the WHS Act, attracts maximum penalties of 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of over $10 million (100,000 penalty units) for body corporates.  The ACT provisions are contained in the Crimes Act 1900 (ACT) and provide for a maximum penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of $320,000 for individuals or $1.6 million for employers.

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Stick to the Program – BC Supreme Court awards discretionary bonus to terminated employee based on “reasonable expectations”

In Thoma v. Schaefer Elevator Components Inc., 2019 BCSC 100, Mr. Thoma’s employment contract allowed his employer, Schaefer Elevator, to terminate his employment without cause on six months’ notice by providing Mr. Thoma his “contractually agreed remuneration during the six months’ notice period.”  Mr. Thoma claimed that this included payment of an annual bonus and that he was entitled to receive it.  Schaefer Elevator terminated his employment without cause on October 31, 2017.

The employment contract provided that Mr. Thoma would receive an annual bonus of “up to” $24,000 per year, based upon “agreed upon targets” and his “degree of achievement” of those targets.  Mr. Thoma argued that over the period of his employment with Schaefer Elevator, he received the full amount of his bonus in 2013 (pro-rated), and in 2014, 2015, and 2016.  He said he did not receive any bonus in 2017, and argued that he was entitled to it as well as a pro-rated bonus for 2018, as his 6-month notice period expired at the end of April, 2018.  Mr. Thoma took the position that the bonus was an integral part of his wage structure and, based on past conduct, he had a reasonable expectation that the employer would not exercise its discretion against him by declining to pay it.

Schaefer Elevator argued that the bonus process involved both the setting and achieving of goals, and that its reasons for exercising its discretion to award a bonus in one year were not binding on whether or not it would, or would have to, exercise that same discretion in a subsequent year.  To this end, the employer said that the terms of the bonus plan were spelled out in writing, complete with preconditions that had to be satisfied.  Since those preconditions were not satisfied, Schaefer Elevator said that there was no obligation on its part to pay the bonus.

The Court held that even though the bonus plan was spelled out in writing, the fact that the preconditions for a bonus payment were not satisfied was not enough for Schaefer to deny payment of the bonus to Mr. Thoma.  The Court held that as an employer, Schaefer Elevator was obligated to exercise its discretion regarding the payment of bonuses in a “transparent and fair manner.”  At paragraph 20, the Court separated consideration of the terms of the written agreement from the way it had been applied:

[20] … In such cases, it is not so much the terms or conditions of the bonus policy that are subject to scrutiny, but the manner in which the employer implemented those terms in the exercise of its discretion.  The bonus may be discretionary, but where over the course of the employment it has been awarded in a way that leads the employee to believe the discretion will invariably be exercised in the employee’s favour, this may lead to a finding that the employer has breached the employee’s contractual rights by refusing to pay the bonus in a manner that is not fair or transparent. … To be clear, the issue is not the employee’s reasonable expectation as to the terms of the contract itself, but the employee’s reasonable expectation as to the manner in which the employer’s discretion under the contract is exercised.

The Court found that the bonus constituted an integral component of Mr. Thoma’s compensation.  It also found that Schaefer Elevator had paid out bonuses in the past where the goals were not set or met.  In sum, as a result of Schaefer Elevator’s past conduct, Mr. Thoma had a reasonable expectation as to the manner in which his employer would exercise its discretion under the contract to pay the bonus.  He was awarded a bonus totalling $20,000, namely, for the 10 months of 2017 that he actually worked.  As a small win for Schaefer Elevator, he was not awarded a bonus for the notice period, because he was not wrongfully terminated without reasonable notice and therefore not deprived of an opportunity to earn a bonus during those months.

This case provides another cautionary example for employers offering discretionary bonus payments.  Even where the terms of a bonus plan are clear that payment of any bonus is discretionary and/or subject to several preconditions, if the employer does not make a point of adhering to those preconditions, it may preclude the employer from relying on them in the future.  As happened in Thoma, the employee may be able to say that the employer’s conduct nonetheless provided it with a reasonable expectation that the employer would exercise its discretion to pay the bonus as it had regularly done.

French employment law : Key developments expected for 2019

The French authorities have been very prolific in the area of effecting reforms to employment law, and 2019 will not be an exception to this general rule (although perhaps less so than was the case in 2017 and 2018).

First, in 2019, a certain number of reforms promulgated in 2017 and 2018 will either come into force become fully effective:

  • As of January 2019, all companies have become subject to the requirement to withhold income tax from salaries paid to their employees. This change had been under discussion for a fairly long time and was initially planned to enter into effect in 2018 but then postponed.  However, it is now fully applicable. The implementation of this new system has been quite challenging for French employers;
  • 31 December 2019 will be the final date for the elections of the social and economic committee (“comité social et économique”). This new employee representative body will replace, in companies employing at least 11 employees, the staff delegates, and in companies employing at least 50 employees, the staff delegates, the works council and the health and safety committee. A certain number of companies (especially large companies) have already elected their social and economic committee, but the majority of French companies have not yet made the switch;
  • New requirements relating to professional equality and prohibitions of sexual harassment and sexist behavior were created by a law published in September 2018. Companies employing at least 250 employees are now required to publish indicators related to the gap between remuneration of men and women, and actions implemented for the purpose of removing such gaps. In the past, companies were held to a “best efforts” standard in implementing such policies, while the spirit of the new law is to place the companies under an actual obligation of performance. Penalties may apply to companies achieving insufficient results, following a period of three years. Moreover, such companies employing at least 250 employees are now required to appoint a referent responsible for orienting, informing and accompanying employees in matters of sexual harassment and sexist behavior. The social and economic committee will also need to appoint their own referent (chosen amongst the members of the committee).

In addition, a number of other areas may be subject to change in 2019 in accordance with announcements made by the French Government:

  • The issue of health at work and quality of working life will be negotiated between employers and employees’ unions, and a draft law will be published and debated before the National Assembly and the Senate. Employees’ unions also wish to reform the regulations aiming at preventing occupational risks and the main five employees’ unions in France have published a press release jointly signed by them and insisting on the need to extend the negotiations on such aspects;
  • The Government also recently published a press release regarding the fight against unemployment. The renegotiation of rules governing the French unemployment fund will be one of the biggest challenge of the French government in 2019. Such renegotiation will probably be finalized before the end of Q3 2019.

UK Employment law changes April 2019

Despite Brexit dominating the headlines there are several key changes to employment law coming into force in April 2019.

  • Extension of itemised pay statements to workers, not just employees – 6 April 2019

 

Currently, only employees are required to be given an itemised pay statement. From 6 April the Employment Rights Act (Itemised Pay Statement) (Amendment) Order 2018 and the Employment Rights Act (Itemised Pay Statement) (Amendment) (No 2) Order 2018 are due to come into force which will extend this right to include workers.  In addition, employers will be required to itemise on payslips the number of hours worked, where the workers’ pay varies depending on the number of hours they have worked.  The Government has produced guidance to help employers comply with the new legislation.

  • Change in maximum penalty provided for aggravated breach of any employment law – 6 April 2019

Currently, employers can be fined up to £5,000 for any breach where it is considered there has been an aggravated breach of employment law legislation. Following proposals in the governments Good Work Plan, the Employment Rights (Miscellaneous Amendment) Regulations 2019 were drafted.   The proposal is that, under these regulations, this will be increased to £20,000 from 6 April (although as at 28 March 2019 the regulations are still in draft form).

  • Annual increases to various statutory compensation limits – 6 April 2019.

The Employment Rights (Increase of Limits) Order 2019 increases the limits applying to certain awards of employment tribunals and other amounts payable under employment legislation. These increases impact on the maximum amount of a week’s pay used to calculate statutory redundancy payments to £525 per week (up from £508 per week).  The maximum compensatory award for unfair dismissal increases to £86,444 (from £83,682) where the effective date of termination is on or after the 6 April 2019.

  • Changes to National Minimum Wage rates – 1 April

 

This is changes to the national living wage which increases to £8.21 per hour from that date. Other national minimum wage rates also increase with hourly rates rising to £7.70 for workers aged at least 21 but under 25, to £6.15 for workers aged at least 18 but under 21 and £4.35 for workers aged under 18.   The hourly apprentice rate increases to £3.90.

  • Changes to statutory payments – 7 April

 

The Social Security Benefits (Up-rating) Order 2019 raises the level of statutory maternity, adoption, paternity and shared parental pay to £148.68 per week on 7 April 2019. Statutory sick pay rises to £94.25 on 6 April 2019

As we mentioned in our February blogpost ( What to expect in 2019), there are other changes to be considered on the horizon.  In particular, the change to employer’s national insurance contribution treatment on termination payments (which was originally due to take effect in April of this year) is now expected to come into force on 6 April 2020.  This has the effect that all termination payments above the £30,000 threshold will be subject to class 1 A national insurance contributions (employer’s contributions).

German court: Protection of whistle-blower confidentiality does not generally override the data subject access right

On the scope of subject access requests under the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GRPR) in the context of compliance and whistle-blowing regimes, the Regional Labour Court (Landesarbeitsgericht) of Stuttgart decided that an employer was required not only to provide an employee with the records containing performance and behavioural data, but also to disclose information regarding internal investigations. This is the first reported successful enforcement of a data subject access right under Article 15 GDPR before a regional labour court in Germany. (The judgment was handed down on 20 December 2018 but has just been published in full text.)

The case

A high-ranking employee had defended himself against the termination of his employment contract. During the proceedings he made a data subject access request under the GDPR, requesting information on internal charges which had led to his dismissal. The employer refused to respond to his request, relying on protection of whistle-blower confidentiality.

The Regional Labour Court of Stuttgart considered the scope of Article 15(4) GDPR which provides:

“The right to obtain a copy [of the data undergoing processing] shall not adversely affect the rights and freedoms of others.”

The court held that:

  • the employer was required to disclose the requested information to the employee and was not entitled to refuse to comply with the request by relying on the exemption pursuant to Article 15(4) GDPR without giving any justification; and
  • there is no general rule that protection of whistle-blower confidentiality overrides the employee’s access right.  The employer is not entitled to routinely rely on exemptions pursuant to Article 15(4) GDPR and should consider them on a case-by-case basis. In this case the employer had not provided any facts justifying why the whistle-blower identity should be protected.

Our take

Especially in the United Kingdom and Ireland data subject access requests are often used as a mechanism for trial preparation, by current or former employees for the purposes of actual or intended litigation. The judgment of the Regional Labour Court of Stuttgart could provide encouragement for a similar trend to grow in Germany.

As the motivation of a data subject is largely irrelevant to the data controller’s obligation to respond to their request, data subject access requests can be a powerful tool for the employee.  UK and Irish businesses are already aware of how burdensome and costly they can be.

This case will probably escalate to the highest labour court in Germany. It remains to be seen what the outcome would be.

Queensland director’s ‘flagrant disregard’ for safety methods leads to custodial sentence following reckless conduct conviction

Earlier this year Gary Lavin and his company Multi-Run Roofing Pty Ltd (Multi-Run Roofing) were found guilty by a jury of reckless conduct under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld) (the Act), following the death of a worker in July 2014.

Mr Lavin was sentenced to 12 months in prison (suspended after 4); the first custodial sentence handed out to an individual in Queensland for breach of the Act.  Multi-Run Roofing was also fined $1 million.

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Restriction territoriale des clauses de non-concurrence dans l’industrie technologique – lorsque la limitation semble elle-même avoir une limite

Les clauses de non-concurrence sont régulièrement utilisées tant dans le cadre de contrats commerciaux que dans le cadre de contrats d’emploi. Ces clauses pondèrent d’un côté les intérêts légitimes commerciaux de l’entreprise au droit notamment de l’employé de gagner sa vie. Elles sont donc une exception à la règle de la libre concurrence et, afin d’être légales et légitimes, se doivent d’être limitées raisonnablement quant au temps, au lieu et avoir un objet circonscrit. Lorsque l’une de ces trois (3) limitations impose toutefois une restriction qui va au-delà des intérêts légitimes en cause à protéger, la clause de non-concurrence risque d’être jugée déraisonnable par les tribunaux québécois. Ce constat emporte automatiquement son invalidité totale et sa non-application, et ce, sans la possibilité de la réécrire ou de la modifier. Dès lors, la rédaction d’une clause de non-concurrence doit être méticuleuse et une attention particulière doit être portée notamment quant à l’identification de la restriction territoriale applicable à celle-ci.

Le principe entourant la détermination de la restriction territoriale

De façon générale, le territoire visé par la clause de non-concurrence doit être limité à celui dans lequel s’exerce le commerce ou les activités de l’entreprise. Il vise habituellement son achalandage. Le caractère raisonnable du territoire dépendra de la nature des activités poursuivies par l’entreprise.

L’enjeu actuel des entreprises technologiques

La notion d’intérêts légitimes de l’employeur peut varier selon le secteur d’activité de l’entreprise en cause. En effet, une clause de non-concurrence visant un vaste territoire tel que plusieurs pays pourra être considérée raisonnable par les tribunaux lorsque l’entreprise agit notamment dans des activités spécialisées. Les tribunaux en pareil contexte, afin d’établir le caractère raisonnable de la limitation territoriale en cause, considéreront le marché spécifique et concurrentiel de l’entreprise et l’étendue territoriale de sa clientèle, souvent dispersée dans plusieurs régions du monde. Lors de cette évaluation, les tribunaux tendent de plus en plus à prendre en considération les changements dans l’économie moderne imposés par les technologies de l’information.

Or, cette évolution soulève plusieurs questions nouvelles: en matière commerciale, qu’arrive-t-il lorsque l’entreprise œuvre dans le domaine de la haute technologie qui ne connaît en pratique pas de frontières? En matière d’emploi, comment peut-on limiter la concurrence d’un employé pouvant travailler à distance, et ce, à partir de n’importe quel endroit dans le monde?

Malgré ce nouveau paradigme, la jurisprudence québécoise rendue en matière de clause de non-concurrence continue présentement à exiger dans ces clauses la présence d’une limitation territoriale sous peine d’emporter la nullité de celles-ci.

Aux États-Unis

Du côté des États-Unis, la validité des clauses de non-concurrence peut varier en fonction des états. Alors qu’elles sont proscrites en Californie, une nouvelle loi loi est entrée en vigueur le 1er octobre 2018 au Massachusetts ayant pour effet d’en préciser les conditions de validité. Une des particularités de cette loi est qu’elle précise que la clause sera présumée raisonnable si le territoire visé est limité aux régions dans lesquelles l’employé, durant les deux dernières années d’emploi, a fourni des services ou avait une présence ou une influence importante. Cependant, la loi ne définit pas les termes « présence » et « influence ». Il sera donc intéressant de voir l’application d’un tel article dans l’industrie des technologies, puisqu’un employé œuvrant dans ce domaine peut avoir une influence et une présence sur un large territoire.

Recommandations

Le législateur et les tribunaux québécois seront inévitablement appelés à se prononcer sur ces questions contemporaines qui découlent du développement des technologies de l’information et qui font désormais partie du quotidien de nombreuses entreprises. Le Québec s’inspirera alors peut-être des législatures étrangères afin d’adresser cet enjeu grandissant de la limitation territoriale des clauses de non-concurrence dans le domaine des hautes technologies.

La prudence est de mise

D’ici là, il demeure prudent de limiter la portée territoriale des clauses de non-concurrence afin que celles-ci soient considérées comme étant raisonnables. Une pratique à adopter est de jumeler à la restriction de non-concurrence, une restriction visant la confidentialité et la non-sollicitation notamment des clients de l’entreprise. Concernant cette dernière restriction, une clause de non-sollicitation n’a pas à être restreinte à un territoire spécifique contrairement à la non-concurrence, permettant d’éviter du même coup la question épineuse de la limitation territoriale en matière de non-concurrence. Ce principe généralement reconnu n’est cependant pas suivi par tous. Un certain courant observé en jurisprudence est d’avis que la clause de non-sollicitation doit elle aussi contenir une limitation territoriale, sans quoi, sa validité serait compromise. Ce courant jurisprudentiel demeure toutefois marginal en date de ce jour et est questionnable selon nous suivant l’application de l’article 2089 du Code civil du Québec. Dans l’incertitude, et si cela s’avère être possible, mieux vaut donc prévoir une limitation territoriale à l’ensemble de vos clauses restrictives.

L’auteur souhaite remercier Me Meghan Allard et Me Vincent Caron pour leur collaboration à la rédaction de ce billet.

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