B.C. trucking company loses claim for damages to vehicle, attempt to recoup safe-driving bonus

A truck driver behind the wheel. Photo: Kagan Bastimar/Pexels

A trucking company has had its claim for damages to a vehicle, along with an attempt to recoup a safe-driving bonus from the worker, tossed out by small claims court in British Columbia.

It’s a relatively simple case that dealt with a number of interesting items, including jurisdictional issues and the importance of employers introducing actual evidence to back up their claims.

Jurisdiction: Employment standards laws don’t provide forum for employers to seek remedies

The Civil Resolution Tribunal commented on jurisdiction issues, noting that the general rule is that labour and employment relations fall under provincial, not federal, jurisdiction. However, interprovincial and international trucking falls under federal rules via the Canada Labour Code (CLC).

While the driver sought to have the case tossed because long-haul trucking is federally regulated, the CRT agreed to hear the case.

“This dispute is about debt or damages arising under the employment contract and the law of negligence,” it said. “Neither the CLC nor (provincial employment standards legislation) provide a forum for employers to seek remedies from employees.”

What happened?

Trans Can Trucking (TCT) hired the worker as a long-haul truck driver. He worked for the company from Oct. 8, 2020, until Jan. 20, 2022. His starting wage rate was $23 per hour and 26 cents per mile on top of that pay.

It also offered a bonus of 4 cents per mile subject to meeting various conditions, including not damaging company equipment and avoiding traffic tickets.

TCT said he damaged a mirror on one of its trucks and it sought $854.83. It also wanted an order forcing him to pay back the bonus he received in April 2021 for $795.48, for total damages of just over $1,650.

The CRT said it wasn’t clear if the company’s claim was based on negligence or breach of contract, so it addressed both.

Mirror damage

On Nov. 15, 2021, TCT issued the driver a “warning notice.” It believed he damaged the mirror due to “negligence and rash driving” on Aug. 12, 2021.

TCT said the driver claimed it was damaged while he was parked, but the company had dash-cam footage it claimed proved otherwise. It submitted a three-minute that showed the passenger mirror come close to, and possibly contacting, fencing in a narrow area of road under construction.

“However, the mirror does not move, and the video has no sound, so it is not possible to confirm if the mirror contacted the fencing,” the CRT said. “I find the video does not show any damage occurring to the passenger side mirror.”

Even if the mirror had been damaged, the CRT said the driving at the time wasn’t anything beyond ordinary negligence.

“I find that the video does not show unsafe driving given that the fencing was close to the narrow road in a construction zone,” it said.

The warning notice that TCT issued, which the driver signed, stated: “… as repair cost of the damages which needs to be recovered from you by deducting your bonus amount or alternatively pay the company for damage part of part itself to avoid the bonus deductions.”

The CRT said the letter was unclear as to which of those options, if any, the driver was agreeing to when he signed it. The driver said he did not realize what he was signing, but the court said nothing turned on that point.

The purpose of the “warning letter” was just that — a warning, it said, and not enough to ground an agreement for repayment.

The court was also critical of TCT because it didn’t submit any evidence to back up the cost of the mirror damage it was claiming — no receipts or invoices. The mirror claim was dismissed.

The April 2021 bonus

TCT wanted the worker to repay the $795.48 safe driving bonus. Although the company provided no documentation it paid the bonus, the worker acknowledged he received it.

But the company failed to say why, exactly, this bonus should be repaid, the court said. There was a warning notice, dated March 12, 2021, that referred to an alleged incident resulting in trailer side body damage. It said it would withdraw the miles bonus for March subject to review on or after May 1, 2021.

Again, the company provided no evidence of the March 12 incident or damage. The worker said he earned the April 2021 bonus, and pointed to a letter from TCT in May that offered him a slight wage increase. This, he said, showed TCT was happy with his performance.

The court noted the onus was on TCT to prove its claim, and it failed to do so. The bonus claim was dismissed.

For more information, see Trans Can Trucking Ltd. v. Rana, 2023 BCCRT 152 (CanLII)

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