Case In Point
Supreme Court of Canada Finds Employers Have Duty to Accommodate Under Workers’ Compensation Legislation
Date: February 22, 2018
The Supreme Court of Canada recently considered an employer’s duty to accommodate under Québec’s workers’ compensation legislation, the Act Respecting Industrial Accidents and Occupational Diseases (Act).
In Quebec (Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail) v. Caron, the Commission de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CSST) and, on appeal, the Commission des lésions professionnelles (CLP) had found that the Act encompassed the full extent of an employer’s duty to accommodate and that additional accommodation measures could not be imposed on an employer. That finding was set aside on judicial review, a decision which was upheld by the Québec Court of Appeal which concluded that the Act should be interpreted in accordance with the duty to accommodate under the Québec Charter of human rights and freedoms (Charter).
The issue on appeal to the Court was whether the employer’s duty to reasonably accommodate someone with a disability – a principle that lies at the core of human rights law – needed to be applied despite the absence of an express term in the Act imposing this duty. It is significant to note that the Act is similar to workplace legislation in several Canadian jurisdictions, including Ontario.
The Court held that the Act needed to be interpreted in conformity with the Québec Charter. It noted that the duty to accommodate disabled employees is a fundamental tenet of Canadian labour and human rights law and as a result, the duty needed to be applied when interpreting and applying the provisions of the Act. The Court emphasized that there is no reason to deprive an employee who becomes disabled as a result of a workplace injury of the principles available to all disabled persons. It ultimately concluded that workers’ compensation adjudicators have the exclusive remedial authority to require an employer to do whatever is reasonably possible to accommodate a disabled worker’s individual injury.
Further, the Court noted that injured worker legislation across Canada seeks to prevent unfair treatment of injured workers based on their disability. It referred to one of its prior decisions which stated that human rights law, including the Québec Charter, “is a declaration of public policy regarding matters of general concern, and forms part of the body of relevant law necessary to assist a tribunal in interpreting its enabling legislation.” Based on this principle, the objectives of Québec’s injured workers’ legislation overlap with those of the Charter and, as a result, the injured workers’ scheme could not be interpreted without consideration for relevant human rights law. The Court stated:
50 The injured worker scheme seeks “to facilitate the worker’s reinstatement in his employment or an equivalent employment or, where that object is not attainable, to facilitate his access to suitable employment”. Similarly, Quebec’s Charter seeks “to ensure that persons who are otherwise fit to work are not unfairly excluded where working conditions can be adjusted without undue hardship” (Hydro-Québec, at para. 14). This is the essence of the duty of reasonable accommodation. The injured worker scheme sets out various types of accommodation, such as reinstatement, equivalent employment, or failing that, the most suitable employment possible. The fact that the scheme sets out some type of accommodation does not negate the broader, general accommodation required by the Quebec Charter.
51 An injured worker’s rights and entitlements under the Act must therefore be interpreted and implemented in accordance with the employer’s duty to reasonably accommodate an employee disabled by a workplace injury, which in turn means that the CSST and the CLP have the exclusive remedial authority, in implementing ss. 236 and 239 of the Act dealing with reinstatement, equivalent, or suitable employment, to impose measures on the employer to do whatever is reasonably possible to accommodate the disabled worker’s individual injury and the circumstances that flow from it.
This case has important implications for employers across the country as it will likely be relied upon in interpreting workers’ compensation legislation throughout Canada. Employers must be cognizant of the requirement “to do whatever is reasonably possible to accommodate the disabled worker’s individual injury,” even in the absence of an express requirement to do so in any applicable workers’ compensation legislation.