In this article, I discuss various noteworthy Canadian labour law decisions from 2021. While the topic of mandatory vaccination policies has garnered significant interest and attention from both employers and lawmakers in the past year, there were several judicial developments independent of vaccination policies that employers and human resources practitioners should keep in mind.
1. Labour Arbitrators Can Have Exclusive Jurisdiction Over Human Rights Complaints in Unionized Workplaces: Northern Regional Health Authority v. Horrocks, 2021 SCC 42 (“Horrocks”)
In Horrocks, a unionized employee alleged that her employer failed to adequately accommodate her disability when it terminated her for violating a last chance agreement. Following her termination, the employee filed a complaint before an adjudicator of the Manitoba Human Rights Commission (the “Commission”) alleging that her termination violated her rights under the Manitoba Human Rights Code.
The Supreme Court of Canada (the “Supreme Court”) found that the Commission did not have jurisdiction over the complaint as jurisdiction lay exclusively with the labour arbitrator in accordance with the collective agreement and the Manitoba Labour Relations Act. In reaching this conclusion, the Supreme Court refined the two-step analysis to resolve jurisdictional disputes between labour arbitrators and competing statutory tribunals:
- The relevant legislation must first be examined to determine whether it grants the arbitrator exclusive jurisdiction and, if so, over what matters. Where the legislation includes a mandatory dispute resolution clause, an arbitrator has the exclusive jurisdiction to decide all disputes arising from the collective agreement, subject to clearly expressed legislative intent to the contrary.
- If the legislation grants the labour arbitrator exclusive jurisdiction, then a determination must be made as to whether the dispute falls within the scope of the jurisdiction. Such jurisdiction will extend to all disputes that arise, in their essential character from the interpretation, application or alleged violation of the collective agreement. The relevant inquiry is into the facts alleged, not the legal characterization of the matter.
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