What is the price that corporations must pay when an employee dies on the job as a result of negligent safety practices?
Some would argue that there is no price that would adequately compensate for the loss of life. The financial penalties should be severe, up to the point of bankrupting the business. Others argue that any loss of life should mean an automatic loss of liberty for the directors who are held responsible when there is a workplace fatality.
Loss of liberty means prison time.
How much prison time to be served and how much money to be paid is up to the courts to decide. As we know from our occupational health and safety studies, employers can (and will) be charged under the Criminal Code of Canada (Bill C-45) in the case of a workplace death. Once convicted, however, recent court and appeal decisions reflect the ongoing argument of how much is too much, or how much is too little, that an employer must pay in order to adequately compensate for the tragic loss of life on their watch.
A recent decision by the Ontario Court of Appeal provides us with some insights into this ongoing and painful dilemma.
It is interesting to note that this case included considerations of ‘moral blameworthiness’ on the part of the employer by the courts. The concept of ‘moral blameworthiness’ comes into play when determining the consequences for the employer. If there is clear evidence that the employer engaged in willful misconduct such as knowingly ignoring their obligations under the law, they are subject to increased levels of penalty as a result of their ‘moral’ failures. In this case, among many other elements, it may be that the employer did not meet the standard of ‘moral blameworthiness’ as part of the appeal decision. Ultimately, the courts decided to overturn the originally imposed prison sentences for the employer and uphold a lesser financial penalty.
Court decisions are complicated things which are often challenging to process and to understand. There are nuances and clarities that rely strictly on the application of the concept of procedural fairness under the law. When the final decisions are made, it may be difficult to accept the conclusions that have been made, especially in light of the loss of life which no amount of reparations will replace.
- Do you agree or disagree that company directors should be held criminally responsible when a workplace fatality occurs? Explain your rationale.
- If a worker dies on the job and there is clear evidence that the employer was to blame, what types of penalties would you impose? Explain your rationale.
- What does the concept of ‘moral blameworthiness’ mean to you?