Home Featured B.C. WCAT rejects workers’ safety retaliation claims, points to frustration of contract for medical reasons

B.C. WCAT rejects workers’ safety retaliation claims, points to frustration of contract for medical reasons

by HR Law Canada

The Workers’ Compensation Appeal Tribunal (WCAT) in British Columbia has ruled in favour of an employer in a case involving allegations of prohibited action against an international relations and analytics specialist.

The worker had claimed that her employer retaliated against her by retracting a job offer and ultimately terminating her employment for raising safety concerns. The tribunal, however, concluded that the employer’s actions were not retaliatory and did not constitute prohibited action under the Workers Compensation Act.

Complaint filed with WorkSafeBC

The worker filed a prohibited action complaint with WorkSafeBC on August 20, 2022, alleging that her employer had retaliated against her by retracting a job offer in 2020 and terminating her employment on June 8, 2022, in response to her raising safety concerns.

The initial decision by a WorkSafeBC adjudicative officer determined that the claim regarding the retracted job offer was not filed within the mandated one-year period and thus could not be considered.

Regarding the worker’s termination, the adjudicative officer found no causal connection between the termination and the safety concerns raised by the worker. The employer successfully rebutted the worker’s claim, arguing that the termination was due to frustration of contract, not retaliation for safety complaints.

Appeal of decision

In her appeal to the WCAT, the worker represented herself and requested that the appeal proceed in writing, a request which was granted. The employer participated in the appeal and was represented by a lawyer.

The worker had alleged a series of negative experiences at her workplace, including being forced to watch a disturbing video shortly after starting her employment in September 2018, undergoing breast reduction surgery in 2019, and being coerced into writing an internal report about her boss in 2020.

She also made claims of harassment and inappropriate comments from a human resources representative, which she believed contributed to her termination.

Safety concerns a narrow claim: Tribunal

However, the tribunal’s vice chair noted that a prohibited action claim is specifically designed to protect workers who suffer negative employment consequences as a result of raising safety concerns or engaging in safety activities. The vice chair emphasized that a prohibited action claim is not a substitute for wrongful dismissal or other workplace grievances.

The tribunal found that only the worker’s complaint of bullying and harassment made in 2020 could be considered a protected safety activity. The worker had reported various incidents, including being embarrassed in a meeting, unprofessional salary negotiations, and being overwhelmed with tasks. The tribunal acknowledged that the worker’s complaint was made in good faith.

Despite this, the tribunal determined that there was a weak temporal connection between the worker’s safety complaints and her termination, which occurred over two years after she discontinued working. The tribunal concluded that the weak temporal connection did not establish a causal relationship between the worker’s safety complaints and her termination.

Employer argued frustration of contract

Furthermore, the tribunal found that the employer had successfully rebutted any presumption of prohibited action. The decision to terminate the worker’s employment was based on a March 2022 medical certificate indicating that the worker would not be able to return to work for at least 18 months due to her medical condition.

The employer argued that the termination was due to frustration of contract, as the worker had been absent for two years and would not be able to fulfil her job duties in the foreseeable future.

The tribunal noted that the worker had initially indicated that her termination was due to medical reasons rather than safety concerns, which further supported the employer’s position. The tribunal also found that the employer’s decision to terminate the worker’s employment was not influenced by any anti-safety animus.

In conclusion, the WCAT denied the worker’s appeal and confirmed the WorkSafeBC decision, ruling that the employer did not take prohibited action against the worker.

For more information, see A2302364 (Re), 2024 CanLII 62985 (BC WCAT).

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