Lack of Effective Cannabis Impairment Testing – What is an Employer to Do?

In a recent decision from Newfoundland and Labrador, the court upheld an arbitrator’s decision that an employer had the right to refuse to employ an employee because of cannabis use.

The employee had 30 years of service as a labourer on construction projects in the province.  He had worked on a hydro project that involved safety sensitive work.

Unfortunately, over the last 10 years he suffered from pain due to osteoarthritis and Crohns disease.  He had a prescription for the use of cannabis.  He used cannabis on a daily basis and his dosage was described as high.  The employer refused to recall the employee to resume working in his position.  It claimed that the marijuana use created a risk of impairment at work.

There was considerable expert evidence given that included testimony that the use of cannabis results in a reduction of sensory perception, self-awareness, vigilance, reaction time, and short term memory and caused fatigue, euphoria and distraction.  Further, the frequency of use of cannabis at the dosage used by the grievor would result in an increased length of impairment due to “body loading”.  One expert cited a Health Canada recommendation that patients not engage in safety sensitive work for 24 hours following use of cannabis.

There was no evidence that the grievor was ever impaired at work.  The employer relied on the fact that his extended use created a risk of impairment and argued that because there is no reliable means to test for impairment from cannabis, it was justified in not allowing the employee to work in this position.  The arbitrator agreed and held that the inability to measure impairment and therefore manage the risk of harm constituted an undue hardship for the employer.  The arbitrator denied the grievance.   The union appealed the decision but the court upheld the arbitrator’s decision.

This decision provides support for employers dealing with cannabis use in the workplace.  If the work is safety sensitive, and the use creates a risk of impairment, you may be justified in making changes to the employee’s work to address the risk even if there is no evidence of impairment at work.  This might include holding the employee out of work in some circumstances.  Of course, this is a decision from another jurisdiction, and any case will depend on the specific facts at issue, but there is some reason to be hopeful that employers will be able to address the risk of impairment in the workplace and not have to wait for a tragic event.  The absence of a reliable test for impairment may allow the employer to take a stronger position where the employee is in a safety sensitive position.

In its first decision on restrictive covenants in more than a century, the UK Supreme Court upholds a 6-month non-compete covenant adopting the more liberal approach to the rules of severance

In the case of Tillman v Egon Zehnder Ltd [2019] UKSC 32, the Supreme Court has upheld a 6-month non-compete covenant, adopting the more liberal approach to the rules of severance.

The Court ruled that on its proper construction, the covenant was unreasonably wide in that it restrained the employee from holding a minority shareholding in a competing business but held that the offending part of the covenant could be severed so as to make it enforceable.

Legal background

In the UK restrictive covenants are prima facie void as being in restraint of trade unless they go no further than reasonably necessary to protect the legitimate business interests of the employer. In some cases, it may be possible for courts to sever unlawful words or provisions from the rest of a restrictive covenant in order to create an enforceable restriction.

Facts

Ms Tillman was employed by Egon Zehnder (EZ) to work in its financial services group from January 2004 until January 2017 when her employment came to an end. Ms Tillman then informed EZ that she wished to start working for a firm based in New York carrying out similar business on 1 May 2017. EZ issued proceedings against her alleging that this would breach the terms of the 6-month non-compete covenant in her contract which stated that Ms Tillman would not without prior consent:

“directly or indirectly, either alone or jointly with or on behalf of any third party and whether as principal, manager, employee, contractor, consultant, agent or otherwise howsoever at any time within the period of six months from the Termination Date: […] directly or indirectly engage or be concerned or interested in any business carried on in competition with any of the businesses of the Company or any Group Company which were carried on at the Termination Date or during the period of twelve months prior to that date and with which [she was] materially concerned during such period”. 

Ms Tillman argued that the post-termination non-compete clause was void for being unreasonably wide. In particular she argued that on its proper construction, the restriction against being “interested in” a competing business was too wide as it could prevent her from having a minor shareholding in a competitor for investment purposes.

Decisions of the High Court and the Court of Appeal

The High Court upheld the non-compete covenant and granted an injunction, holding that on its proper construction, the covenant did not prevent Ms Tillman from holding a minority shareholding in a competing company. On appeal to the Court of Appeal, the Court overturned this decision and found that it was not possible to say that a shareholder in a company was not “interested in” that company in accordance with conventional usage, and with how that phrase has been interpreted in the authorities. Therefore, on its face, the non-compete clause was too wide.

Then, on whether the offending words of the covenant could be severed so as to make the remainder enforceable, the Court stated that the non-compete covenant was a single covenant preventing Ms Tillman from engaging or being concerned in a competing business in any one of several capacities, and that in accordance with case law its constituent parts could not be severed.  EZ appealed to the Supreme Court.

Decision of the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeal that the natural construction of the words “interested in”, consistent with longstanding authority, is that they cover the holding of any shares in the specified businesses and as such the covenant was unreasonably wide and unenforceable.

However, as to whether the offending words could be severed, overruling the Court’s decision in Attwood v Lamont [1920] KB 571,  the Supreme Court agreed that they could. It stated that the three essential criteria of the approach to severance set out in Beckett Investment Management v Hall [2007] EWCA Civ 613 were satisfied: (i) that removal of the offending words was possible without the need to add to or modify the remaining wording; (ii) that the remaining terms were supported by sufficient consideration (not a point of contention in these circumstances); and (iii) that removal of the offending words would not generate any major change in the overall effect of all the post-employment restraints in the contract.

Implications for employers 

The decision means that unlawfully wide parts of a covenant will be capable of being severed to save the enforceable remainder if the essential three elements of the doctrine of severance outlined above are satisfied.

Whilst this liberal approach to severability will be welcomed by employers, they should not treat it as permission to impose unnecessarily wide restrictions on employees. It is still the case that enforcing covenants is difficult, and the courts will not rewrite an unenforceable covenant in order to save it.

The cautious approach to drafting remains that covenants should expressly exclude a restriction on minority shareholdings in competing businesses. Equally, the practice of creating distinct and separate covenants is still to be recommended.

 

 

Projet de réforme des lois en matière de santé et de sécurité au travail : employeurs, restez à l’affût!

En juin dernier, le ministre du Travail, de l’Emploi et de la Solidarité sociale, M. Jean Boulet, a annoncé son intention de faire reconnaître certaines maladies psychologiques à titre de véritables maladies professionnelles. En entrevue au journal Le Soleil, M. Boulet annonçait les couleurs de la réforme qu’il souhaite mener afin de moderniser les lois québécoises en matière de santé et de sécurité au travail. C’est dans le cadre de ce processus que le ministre souhaite notamment inclure les troubles psychologiques dans la liste des maladies professionnelles reconnues[1] :

« Le ministre compte aller « assez loin » pour que l’on prenne soin de la santé mentale des travailleurs. Il vaut ainsi obliger certaines entreprises à « faire une analyse des risques psychosociaux de l’environnement de travail » qu’elles offrent. »

Si cette réforme devait voir le jour, l’Annexe I de la Loi sur les accidents du travail et les maladies professionnelles (LATMP) devrait forcément être amendée pour inclure désormais certains problèmes de santé mentale permettant ainsi aux travailleurs de bénéficier de la présomption prévue à l’article 29 de la LATMP. Il pourrait donc être plus facile pour ces derniers de faire reconnaître un trouble psychologique comme l’anxiété ou encore le stress post-traumatique à titre de maladie professionnelle et bénéficier ainsi des prestations prévues à la LATMP. En sus de la reconnaissance des troubles de santé mentale à titre de maladies professionnelles, la réforme envisagée par le ministre Boulet vise également à améliorer la protection des stagiaires – lesquels ne bénéficient pas actuellement de la même protection que les autres travailleurs – et à alléger le processus de contestation des décisions de la Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST).

Ce changement éventuel de législation est à suivre de près par les employeurs québécois.

Le dépôt d’un projet de loi est prévu pour l’automne. Nous vous tiendrons informés des développements en la matière.

Relativement aux questions de santé mentale des travailleurs, en attendant de voir quelle tangente prendra la réforme envisagée, certaines mesures peuvent déjà être prises dans les milieux de travail. On pensera par exemple à réviser ou à instaurer des politiques sur le harcèlement en milieu de travail – ce qui est d’ailleurs une obligation en vertu de la Loi sur les normes du travail depuis le 1er janvier 2019 -, sur le travail à la maison (conciliation travail-famille), sur le programme d’aide aux employés, etc. Le tout, dans le but d’assurer le bien-être des travailleurs au sein de leur organisation.

[1] Patricia Cloutier, Le ministre Boulet veut faire reconnaître les maladies psychologiques liées au travail, Journal Le Soleil, 20 juin 2019, en ligne : https://www.lesoleil.com/actualite/politique/le-ministre-boulet-veut-faire-reconnaitre-les-maladies-psychologiques-liees-au-travail-54b64e6ceec7852821ee2b5f6ddac97d. Voir également : Jean-Marc Salvet, La révolution du travail de Jean Boulet, Journal Le Soleil, 20 juin 2019, en ligne : https://www.lesoleil.com/chroniques/jean-marc-salvet/la-revolution-du-travail-de-jean-boulet-167a394b58308e3d925e5dbf749b2b23.

Marie Boland’s Review of the Work Health and Safety Laws, Part 3: Safe Work Australia‘s Consultation Regulation Impact Statement

On 24 June 2019, Safe Work Australia released a Consultation Regulation Impact Statement (RIS) seeking feedback on the possible impacts of implementing the recommendations of the Marie Boland independent review of the model Work Health and Safety Laws final report (Report).

In February this year, Marie Boland (former Executive Director of SafeWork SA) delivered the Report which found the model WHS laws (the laws) are working as intended although further clarity was required to enhance the application of the laws across jurisdictions.  As a result, the Report contained 34 recommendations for reform, some of which we have discussed in our previous article.

The Consultation RIS covers all 34 Report recommendations. However, Safe Work Australia has expressed interest in gathering feedback on 12 recommendations that have “more than a minor impact” on stakeholders, or that require further information and analysis including:

  • introducing regulations dealing with psychological health;
  • clarifying workplace entry of HSR assistants and WHS entry permit holders;
  • providing HSRs with choice of training course;
  • providing a process for resolving disputes about WHS issues;
  • including gross negligence as an element of the Category 1 offence; and
  • introducing an industrial manslaughter offence.

Continue reading

Wheels have started rolling on Heavy Vehicle National Law Review

The review of the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) by the National Transport Commission (NTC) is under way, with the release of the Terms of Reference, Approach document and 4 of the 8 issue papers as part of the review.  The NTC requests submissions from interested parties in response to their issue papers, with the overall aim of identifying opportunities to improve the HVNL and deliver a modernised law that will enhance safety for all road users.

Continue reading

Migration Advisory Committee asked to review salary threshold by UK Government

The Home Secretary has asked the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to review future salary thresholds for the new immigration system which is due to come into force in January 2021.

As we mentioned in our blog post- The immigration white paper – what will it mean for the UK’s future immigration system? December 2018 – the Government’s proposals in its White Paper published in December 2018 are to adopt a new single skills-based immigration system.  The proposed route for skilled workers will follow the Tier 2 of the Points Based System which already exists, but will be extended to achieve the aim of maximising the economic benefits that migrants bring to the UK.

The White Paper followed many of the recommendations of the MAC and proposed some changes to the current system including: a removal of the cap on the number of workers (being 20,700 per year) who can enter under the Tier 2 route for high skilled workers; abolishing the Resident Labour Market Test (which required employers to advertise a job for four weeks and to consider applications from resident workers before allowing applications from migrants); and lowering the skills threshold for workers entering under the new skilled workers route to RQF 3 or above which includes A-level or advanced apprenticeship or Level 3 NVQs.

However, one suggestion by the MAC was to retain the minimum salary threshold of £30,000. In the White Paper the Government made it clear that they would engage with businesses and employers as to what salary thresholds should be set.  Businesses were certainly concerned that if the salary threshold remained the same, the effect of the other changes would not be recognised.  In fact, the Government itself acknowledges that 60% of existing jobs in the intermediate skills level would not meet this salary threshold and whether or not the salary threshold would be met would depend on the industry sector and the region in which the business operated.

The Government has therefore asked the MAC to:

  • Consider the mechanism for calculating future salary thresholds, such as whether this should be a single minimum salary threshold, potentially with some flexibilities to set a lower rate; the current arrangement of a combination of a minimum salary threshold and a “going rate”; or an approach which focuses only on the “going rate” for a particular role;
  • Review the levels of salary thresholds. This should include advice on the impact the salary thresholds will have on annual net migration, the resident workforce, migrant workers, employers, public finances and the economy;
  • Consider whether there should be regional salary thresholds. There have not been regional variations to date but the Government accepts that salaries vary throughout the UK. Therefore while coherence in an immigration system is required the MAC should consider whether there is a need for greater regional variation; and
  • Review the exceptions to the minimum salary requirements, which includes for example what impact salary thresholds might have on sectors that provide high public value to society and the economy but which might not pay such high wages or whether there should be exceptions to new entrants to an occupation.
  • The MAC is asked to report by January 2020 and any report, combined with the views of other stakeholders, will aim to ensure that the new immigration rules will reflect the requirements of businesses in the UK.

The Constitutional Court rules on derivative misconduct

In a unanimous judgment, the Constitutional Court has brought certainty to the test for derivative misconduct and what an employer who wants to rely on such conduct must prove to justify dismissal. This judgment is National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa obo Khanyile Nganezi and Others v Dunlop Mixing and Technical Services (Pty) Ltd and Others [2019] ZACC 25. The burden of proving all these requirements will not easily be met.

The concept of derivative misconduct was created by our courts to overcome difficulties when identifying all the guilty parties involved in group misconduct. Where members of a group have committed misconduct, the rest of the group would have been in close proximity without being directly involved. Whilst these bystanders may not be guilty of the group misconduct, they may be found guilty of another type of misconduct if they are unwilling to identify the guilty employees. This is derived from the breach of their duty of good faith towards their employer and is known as derivative misconduct.

The judgment deals with violence during a protected strike. Three groups of employees were dismissed: those that were positively identified as committing violence, those that were identified as present when the violence took place, but who did not participate, and those who could not be identified as being present when the violence took place. This case deals with the dismissal of the third group only.

The Constitutional Court found that in order to prove derivative misconduct, it must be the most probable inference that each of the employees:

  • Was present at an instance where the misconduct was committed
  • Would have been able to identify those who committed the misconduct
  • Would have known that their employer needed the information from them
  • Failed to disclose the information to their employer
  • Did not disclose the information because they knew they were guilty and not for an innocent reason.

The Court found that in instances where the employer sought to impose a duty on employees to disclose information about their fellow striking employees, the reciprocal nature of the trust relationship between them would require the employer to guarantee the safety of the disclosing employees. As this had not taken place, the employees did not have a duty to disclose information and were not guilty of derivative misconduct.

The Court did not provide any clarity on what would be a sufficient guarantee of safety. Practically, a guarantee of anonymity should suffice, but employers should give careful consideration to the disciplinary process to avoid a scenario where the disclosing employees are unnecessarily required to give evidence or where their identities can simply be deduced from the outcome of the process.

This article was written by Jonathan Jones, Director, Norton Rose Fulbright South Africa Inc

Le « temps banqué » est-il un investissement risqué?

 

Plusieurs employeurs offrent à leurs employés non-syndiqués rémunérés sur la base d’un salaire annuel la possibilité de « banquer du temps » au-delà d’un certain nombre d’heures travaillées par semaine. Ce temps est généralement compensé par le biais de congés équivalant au temps accumulé dans cette banque. Il arrive aussi fréquemment que ce temps corresponde aux heures effectivement travaillées au-delà du seuil hebdomadaire fixé par l’employeur sans que celles-ci ne soient majorées de 50% (comme le prévoit l’article 55 de la Loi sur les normes du travail (LNT ) pour la majeure partie des salariés payés à l’heure travaillant au-delà de 40 heures par semaine).

Une telle pratique s’assortit de plusieurs avantages d’un point de vue de gestion des ressources humaines. Mais d’un point de vue strictement juridique, est-ce là un investissement risqué pour les employeurs?

Prospectus à la suite d’une récente décision de la Cour supérieure

Dans l’affaire Godin c. Aréna des Canadiens inc., la Cour supérieure du Québec a rejeté une action collective en vertu de laquelle des employés rémunérés sur la base d’un salaire annuel réclamaient des sommes en compensation du temps supplémentaire et de la rémunération majorée impayés pour les heures travaillées excédant la semaine normale de travail fixée à 40 heures par l’article 55 de la LNT.

Bien que l’action collective ait été rejetée, il n’en demeure pas moins que certains motifs de la décision devraient, à notre avis, inciter les employeurs à revoir leur politique en matière de temps banqué.

Pourquoi un tel rappel?

Un salaire versé sur une base annuelle vise généralement à compenser les employés pour toutes les heures travaillées. En principe, un employé rémunéré à l’année n’aura pas droit à du temps supplémentaire pour les heures excédant le seuil légal de 40 heures établi à l’article 55 de la LNT. Cette disposition prévoit que, pour le calcul de la majoration de 50% du salaire horaire habituel, la semaine normale de travail est de 40 heures par semaine.

À cet égard, la Cour supérieure rappelle que, dans certaines circonstances, le contrôle des heures de travail des employés rémunérés à l’année peut permettre l’établissement d’un salaire horaire habituel et ainsi justifié une réclamation en temps supplémentaire.

Par exemple, tel peut être le cas si « l’employeur tient un registre des heures effectivement travaillées de ses salariés recevant un salaire annuel et ayant un horaire variable et que pour chaque heure travaillée en sus d’un nombre fixe par semaine, disons 37 heures, il donne soit un congé du même nombre d’heures excédentaires, un taux horaire habituel peut être calculé ». N’est-ce pas là le propre du temps banqué?

Le temps banqué : un investissement risqué?

Morale de l’histoire pour les employeurs : soyez vigilants et consultez un professionnel du droit concernant votre politique de temps banqué. Une telle politique peut impliquer de manière inhérente un horaire de travail hebdomadaire, ce qui permet ainsi de fixer un salaire horaire habituel. En plus, le temps banqué excédant le seuil légal de 40 heures par semaine est souvent calculé à taux simple plutôt qu’en utilisant la majoration de 50% prévue à l’article 55 de la LNT, ce qui peut constituer un risque supplémentaire pour l’organisation.

Le temps banqué peut être très préjudiciable, particulièrement si, à la suite d’une plainte d’un employé, la CNESST étend son enquête à l’ensemble des employés bénéficiant de temps banqué dans votre entreprise. Une réclamation peut rapidement se chiffrer en plusieurs milliers de dollars.

N’hésitez surtout pas à communiquer avec nous si vous avez des questions ou souhaitez obtenir un avis juridique concernant votre politique relative au temps banqué. En ce domaine, un conseiller juridique sera votre meilleur investissement!

Employees must accept contract changes that avoid dismissals despite s187(1)(c)

Section 187(1)(c) of the LRA provides that it is automatically unfair for an employer to dismiss an employee where the reason for that dismissal is the employee’s refusal to accept a demand in respect of any matter of mutual interest. In other words, seemingly an employer may not dismiss an employee who refuses to agree to the variation of their contractual agreed terms and conditions of employment.

The Company embarked on a restructuring exercise to increase profitability and issued a notice to NUMSA that it contemplated possible retrenchments. During the consultation process, the parties agreed to the re-grading of certain positions in order to save costs and avoid the need to retrench any NUMSA’s members. The catch however was the re-grading process required the Company to amend the terms and conditions of employment of the employees. When the employees resisted this change, the Company proceeded to retrench them.

NUMSA instituted action in the Labour Court in which it contended that the Company had sought to force its members to accept a demand over a matter of mutual interest and that the resultant dismissals were automatically unfair. Both the Labour and Labour Appeal Courts rejected this argument.

The Labour Appeal Court found that, whilst employees cannot be dismissed for refusing to accept a demand over a matter of mutual interest, they can be dismissed if that refusal results in a “more dominant or proximate operational necessity”. In other words, if the employees’ refusal to accept the change increases the prospect of, or requires the employer to embark on operational requirement dismissals, then it will not be unfair for the employer to retrench those employees who resist the change.

The refusal by NUMSA’s members to accept the consequences of re-grading necessitated the Company’s need to retrench them. Furthermore, the Company’s demand that the employees accept the re-grading was not made in the context of collective bargaining per se, but as an effort to avoid job losses designed to achieve the Company’s operational requirements – in this case, to increase profitability.

As was pointed out by Aveng during its submissions before the LAC, the very point of the distinction is to allow employers to engage in section 189 consultations where a possible alternative to dismissals is the reduction of terms and conditions applicable to the employees under the threat of those dismissals. If the consequence of pursuing such a strategy is exposure to a claim of automatically unfair dismissal, employers would simply not entertain such an option thereby undermining the fundamental purpose of section 189, namely to encourage meaningful consensus-seeking whereby jobs can be saved.

The Labour Appeal Court’s judgment will provide comfort to employers who genuinely believe that an amendment to the terms and conditions of employment applicable to their employees will avoid possible retrenchments. Employers ought however to be aware that where a retrenchment exercise is utilised as a ruse to secure for example, a lower wage bill, the courts are likely to conclude that any dismissals arising from such a strategy are automatically unfair.

NUMSA & others v Aveng Trident Steel (a division of Aveng Africa (Pty) Ltd) and Another, unreported judgment of the Labour Appeal Court.

This article was written by Jason Whyte, Director, Norton Rose Fulbright South Africa Inc

Crouch, bind, set: Folau to tackle Rugby Australia in the Federal Court

The termination of Israel Folau’s $4m playing contract has set the scrum for a Federal Court case which is likely to shape the landscape of religious expression and vilification in the employment context.

Background

Folau’s controversial “warning” on Instagram stated that “Hell awaits” those who are “homosexuals … thieves and atheists”, among others, telling them they should ”Repent!” because “only Jesus saves”.

Along with NSW Rugby, Rugby Australia’s (together, Rugby Bodies) initial decision to sack Folau because of a high level breach of the Professional Players Code of Conduct was upheld by a Code of Conduct hearing.  The parties were also unable to reach a settlement agreement in the Fair Work Commission late last week.

It is now likely Folau will issue proceedings in the Federal Court of Australia under the general protections provisions of the Fair Work Act 2009 (FW Act), arguing that the termination of his employment occurred because of his religion, which constitutes adverse action taken for a prohibited reason in breach of the FW Act.

Continue reading

LexBlog