Criminality Costs

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.

Click here to read a summary of the case.

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.

 Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you agree or disagree that company directors should be held criminally responsible when a workplace fatality occurs? Explain your rationale.
  2. 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.
  3. What does the concept of ‘moral blameworthiness’ mean to you?

Dangerous Work

A bag of money and gavel represent many legal expenses.
Matt Benoit/Shutterstock

Some workplaces are inherently dangerous. Often we think of these dangers arising from physical or environmental agents that could cause harm to the worker on a day-to-day basis. The human element is also a very real source for contributing to a dangerous workplace, especially in organizations that serve vulnerable and disenfranchised members of our society.

Ontario’s Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care is a facility that treats patients with severe and complex mental health issues and disorders. In the spring of 2016, a patient at the center was able to access two screwdrivers and stabbed several workers, causing them serious injury.

Almost a year later, the Ministry of Labour has laid three charges against the Centre under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. These charges include the employer’s failure to take every reasonable precaution to protect workers; failure to ensure that measures and protections were established for workers; and failure to have health and safety procedures in writing.

Click here to read an article about this case.

As noted in the article, if the employer is found guilty of, or pleads guilty to, these charges they may be faced with a fine of up to $500,000 and other potential penalties.

The Waypoint Centre has responded, as noted in the article and as posted on their website.

This case shows us that policies and procedures on their own do not make workplaces safe. It is clear that the employer must engage risks proactively, especially in a high-risk workplace where danger lies in human behaviour that may be volatile and unpredictable. The employer must act in order to ensure that all persons, both employees and patients alike, are able to have some assurance of living and working in a safe environment.

Discussion Questions:

  1. As the Health and Safety Manager in this situation, what steps would you take to ensure that workers feel safe?
  2. How could you promote a safe workplace in an inherently dangerous work environment?
  3. If you were the employer in this case, how would you plead and what would be the result?