Practical Limitations: How far must an Employer go in order to protect Workers under the Canada Labour Code?

The Supreme Court of Canada recently heard the appeal of Canada Post Corp. v. Canadian Union of Postal Workers 2019 SCC 67 dealing with section 125(1)(z.12) of the Canada Labour Code. Section 125(1)(z.12) of the Canada Labour Code requires that the work place committee or the health and safety representative inspects all or part of the work place each month, so that every part of the work place is inspected at least once each year.

The Union in this case argued that letter carrier routes and points of call should be included in work place safety inspections. Canada Post argued that it was not in control of that part of the workplace. The Court examined the question of whether or not an employer had “control” over the letter carrier routes such that they were required to comply with the health and safety obligations set out in Part II of the Canada Labour Code.

The conclusion made by the appeals officer of the Occupational Health and Safety Tribunal indicated that s.125(1)(z.12) can only apply to work places over which the employer has control “because the purpose of the workplace inspection obligation is to permit the identification of hazards and the opportunity to fix them or to have them fixed. Control over the workplace is necessary to do so”. As Canada Post had no control over letter carrier routes and points of call, the obligation that the workplace be inspected by the Committee could not apply to those locations. After applying the clarified standard of reasonableness (which requires a significant amount of deference to the decision-maker and focus on the reasons for the decisions) found in Canada v. Vavilov, the Supreme Court decided that the original decision from the appeals officer was reasonable.  Indeed, the majority of the Supreme Court held that the appeals officer’s reasoning demonstrated an in-depth understanding of the ways in which an employer fulfills the purposes of the Code, bearing in mind the practical limitations of the workplace.