As Human Resources professionals, we work within very specific legislative parameters.
This applies directly to the need for compliance with health and safety legislation. Our role is not just to ensure that the employer and the organization adheres to the principles and practices of safety requirements – it is to ensure that all persons (including employees) keep the workplace safe for everyone.
The concept of ensuring a safe workplace for everyone, seems to be one that is reasonable within the eyes of the law. A recent legal decision in Saskatchewan outlines and confirms that reasonable safety requirements from both the employer and employee perspective must be followed. In this case, an employee was dismissed for just cause, by the employer, for failing to comply with numerous safety practices.
The former employee filed a claim for wrongful dismissal. This claim was rejected by the courts. The former employee filed an appeal, which was also rejected by the courts, and the termination of employment for just cause was upheld.
Click here to read about the case: Balzer v. Federated Co-operatives Limited.
What becomes very clear, through this brief case analysis, is the fundamental role of ongoing training and monitoring by the employer to ensure safety compliance in the workplace. This is not a case of a single incident leading to tragic consequences due to an accidental error on the part of the employee. All too often, employers do not act until there has been a critical workplace incident or even a fatality before taking action against the employee.
This case shows us that the courts look for the direct trail of evidence. One that proves whether or not the employer acted in a reasonable fashion to guide, monitor and direct the employee in order to keep the workplace safe and in order to avert the reality of potential tragic consequences.
Feeling and being safe at work is reasonable for everyone.
- As the Director of Human Resources in this situation, what additional actions would you take to ensure that safety requirements are met by all employees?
- Do you agree with the termination for just cause in this case? Explain your rationale.
- Why do you think some employees do not report safety infractions? What are the risks and benefits to employees for ‘keeping quiet’ about safety concerns?