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On December 14, 2017, Bill 177, the Stronger, Fairer Ontario Act (Budget Measures), 2017 received Royal Assent and became law in Ontario. Bill 177 is omnibus legislation which, among other things, includes several changes relating to the enforcement of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (the “OHSA”) and amends the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997 (the “WSIA”) to include transition provisions for Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (“WSIB”) benefits claims due to chronic mental stress. The Bill 177 changes to the OHSA came into force on December 14, 2017, while the WSIA amendments will come into effect on January 1, 2018.

OHSA Amendments

One of the key changes Bill 177 made to the OHSA is to significantly increase potential penalties for violations of the OHSA. Bill 177 increased the current maximum fines under the OHSA from $25,000 to $100,000 for individuals and from $500,000 to $1,500,000 for corporations.

Bill 177 also extended the limitation period for filing charges under the OHSA. Before Bill 177, a prosecution under the OHSA had to be commenced within one year of the alleged violation of the OHSA. Bill 177 has changed the date by which a prosecution must be commenced to the later of the one year after the date of the alleged violation or one year after the date that a Ministry of Labour Occupational Health and Safety Inspector became aware of the alleged offence. This extension means that, in certain limited circumstances, prosecutions will be permitted to be commenced years after the alleged offence occurred, which will lead to increased uncertainty for employers.

Bill 177 also amended the OHSA to include a new specific duty for employers to notify the Ministry of Labour if the joint health and safety committee or representative, as applicable, has identified potential structural inadequacies of a building, structure, or any part thereof, or any other part of a workplace, whether temporary or permanent, as a source of danger or hazard to workers.

WSIA Amendments: Chronic Mental Stress Injuries

As we previously wrote on our blog, in May 2017 the Ontario government passed Bill 127, the Stronger, Healthier Ontario Act (Budget Measures), 2017. Among the Bill 127 amendments are changes to the WSIA that will, as of January 1, 2018, extend WSIB benefits coverage to employees who suffer from chronic, work-related mental stress.

Under the Bill 177 amendments, workers who have not filed a mental stress injury claim for an injury that occurred between April 29, 2014 and January 1, 2018 (the date Bill 127 extends WSIB benefits coverage to chronic mental stress injuries) will have until July 1, 2018 to file a claim related to that injury. As we noted in our prior blog post, the date April 29, 2014 is relevant as it was the date of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal (the “WSIAT”) decision ruling that the WSIB’s different treatment of physical and mental injuries was unconstitutional, which led to the expansion of benefits to chronic, work-related mental stress injuries under Bill 127.

Mental stress claims that were already filed in accordance with relevant time limits and are pending before the WSIB on January 1, 2018 will be adjudicated pursuant to the new provisions, regardless of the date on which the worker’s mental stress occurred. If a claim is pending appeal to the WSIAT as of January 1, 2018, it will be referred back to the WSIB where it will be adjudicated pursuant to the new provisions, regardless of the date on which the worker’s mental stress occurred. Mental stress claims that were already denied by the WSIB or the WSIAT cannot be refiled.

The retroactive application of the new chronic mental stress benefit to claims filed in a timely manner as well as the fresh six-month window for those workers who never filed a claim may expose employers to a significant number of unexpected claims for chronic mental stress. For further analysis of the potential impacts Bill 177 will have on employers with respect to claims for chronic mental stress, see the upcoming Winter 2018 Year in Review edition of our newsletter, In the Know.

 

This blog is provided as information and a summary of workplace legal issues.

This information is not intended as legal advice.