Federal Court Recognizes Minister’s Obligation to Investigate Health and Safety Complaints

Federal Court Recognizes Minister’s Obligation to Investigate Health and Safety Complaints
In a recent decision, the Federal Court overturned a decision by a delegate of the Minister of Labour, which had refused to investigate the health and safety complaint of a Canada Border Service Agency employee.

The employee had filed a complaint with the Minister under the Canada Labour Code when CBSA had refused to appoint an impartial investigator to investigate his harassment concerns. CBSA had taken the position that it did not have to investigate the concerns because the employee was off-duty at the time of the alleged harassment, even though the incident took place within the workplace and the alleged harasser was the employee’s supervisor. When considering the employee’s Code complaint, the Minister of Labour’s Delegate refused to investigate the complaint, finding instead that the employee should file a human rights complaint because he was off-duty at the time of the incident.

In its decision, the Court found that the Minister’s Delegate did not have the option to refuse to investigate the employee’s complaint. Instead, the Court found that investigation was a mandatory obligation on the Delegate for this type of complaint, and the Delegate therefore committed an error by refusing to investigate.

In addition, the Court strongly questioned whether it was appropriate to deny the employee harassment protections under the Code because he was off-duty at the time of the incident. As the Court stated:

“While the Applicant was in fact off-duty when the incident occurred… it remains that the Applicant was still in his place of work and the agent of the alleged harassment and violence was the Applicant’s supervisor. Therefore, it becomes difficult to disregard the employee-employer connection in this incident, and the fact that the effects of the incident are evidently different for the Applicant than for a regular traveller who is not employed by the CBSA. Since the place, the tone, and the circumstances of the incident are indicative of the existence of a nexus between the incident of violence and the work place, the issue becomes whether or not the incident itself constitutes harassment and violence. The Respondent’s submissions seem to suggest that if an employee acts within the requirements of their job, as provided for by their work policy or statute, their actions against an off-duty employee while in the place of work cannot constitute harassment or work place violence. I agree with the Applicant that this could set a concerning precedent…”

Based on its analysis, the Court set aside the Minister’s Delegate’s decision and referred the matter back for a new decision.

The Applicant was represented by Morgan Rowe of RavenLaw.

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