Supreme Court of Canada Clarifies Federal Employers’ Workplace Inspection Obligations

  • April 27, 2020
  • Christopher Pigott, Rachel Younan, and Jessica Nolan, Fasken

Federal employers are required under Part II of the Canada Labour Code (the “Code”) to ensure that a workplace health and safety committee or representative inspects the workplace annually. In 2017, the Federal Court of Appeal decided that duty may extend to locations that the employer does not control. A recent Supreme Court of Canada decision has clarified the scope of this duty. 

What Happened? 

In 2012, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (“CUPW”) filed a complaint alleging that Canada Post was breaching its Code obligations at its Burlington, Ontario operations by failing to inspect all letter carrier routes and points of call serviced from that facility. In Canada Post’s view, the Code only required a health and safety inspection of the Canada Post facility in Burlington.  

Following an investigation, a federal government Health and Safety Officer accepted CUPW’s position. The officer decided that Canada Post had contravened its Code inspection obligation because inspections were restricted to the Canada Post building and did not extend to letter carrier routes and points of call. The Health and Safety Officer reached this decision despite the fact that Canada Post did not own or control the letter carrier routes and points of call that were serviced from its Burlington facility. Canada Post appealed. 

The Appeals Officer agreed with Canada Post, finding that the inspection obligation did not apply to any place where a letter carrier is engaged in work outside of Canada Post’s physical building in Burlington. In the Appeals Officer’s view, while the legal term “work place” included all letter carrier routes and points of call route, in reality an employer could only fulfil the work place inspection obligation if it also controlled the location in question. Since Canada Post had no control over letter carrier routes or points of call, it could not comply with the work place inspection obligation at those locations and was not required to do so by the Code. CUPW asked a judge to review the Appeals Officer’s decision. The Federal Court decided that the Appeals Officer’s decision was reasonable. CUPW appealed.