Ridout Barron


Calgary Real Estate, Wills and Estates, and Business Law Blog

Employees raise business law questions for Sears Canada closures

Major changes in the economy have caused multiple retail stores to shut their doors. One of the most high-profile bankruptcies in Alberta has been related to the national closure of Sears Canada. Many employees are coming forward with issues regarding the handling of these proceedings. This raises questions about what is legal for a closing business under provincial and federal business law.

Sears Canada operates independently from Sears Holdings in Illinois, although Sears Holdings owns about 12 per cent of its shares. Sears Canada has been suffering from financial difficulties for at least three years, losing an average of 1 million Canadian dollars per day, and has thus taken steps to close stores and revamp debt. With all the closures taking place, Alberta employees have questions about their rights under provincial business law.

Alberta business law continues to increase minimum wage

There are many laws governing businesses across Canada, including many regarding compensation and treatment of employees. One business law in Alberta was recently affected as the minimum wage increased to $13.60. This is a $1.40 increase compared to the old minimum wage of $12.20. Ontario's minimum wage also saw a 20 cent increase to $11.60. Both provinces are working towards an eventual minimum wage increase to $15 per hour.

In Alberta, the minimum wage is expected to reach $15 per hour by next October. This will be an increase of 47 per cent over four years. The move to a higher minimum wage is controversial. Many Alberta businesses argue that changes to this business law forced them to adjust their operations, raise prices and cut employee hours. Ontario business advocacy groups have voiced similar concerns.

How will legal marijuana affect drug-related termination at work?

Many workplaces have policies regarding drug use that may need to be revised when marijuana is legalized. Federal and provincial governments have established some protections regarding discrimination or illegal termination for medical marijuana use. As Alberta residents consider the legalization of recreational pot, it is important that they know their rights in the workplace should they choose to partake.

Handling marijuana at work, like most sensitive employment issues, comes down to a balance of rights and obligations. To this end, employers have a right to ask about drug use and consider it if they believe it may impair a worker and create an unsafe environment. For example, jobs that involve operating a motor vehicle will require employees to be completely free of any drugs or alcohol.

Anti-bullying legislation may prevent hostile work environments

Canadians often have legal recourse if something goes wrong at work, and the Canadian Labour Code (CLC) is often updated to reflect the modern workplace. One Alberta woman is taking a stand for a clearer definition in the CLC of psychological violence in the workplace. She hopes that those who are suffering from hostile work environments due to bullying behaviour from colleagues can benefit from these proposed updates.

The Alberta woman suffered for five years from what she calls psychological violence campaigns in the workplace. In that time, she says she suffered repeated acts of discrimination and harassment, including isolation, exclusion, intimidation, and verbal insults. She wants to use her experience to bring a positive change to others who have had similar experiences in hostile work environments.

Youth employment law addresses safety and human rights concerns

As students across the country move into a higher grade this September, many will be thinking about getting their first part-time job. Young people in Alberta should know about their rights under provincial employment law. This legislation protects young workers against unsafe work, lack of supervision and other human rights concerns.

Work can always carry risks, but employers in Alberta are responsible for providing safe workplaces. This includes safety training for all employees based on provincial standards. Many workplaces also can provide training on harassment and create clear standards for management to minimize human rights concerns in the workplace.

2 women suing employer for sexual harassment

Two women in Winnipeg are suing the car dealership where they both worked after they were allegedly fired for complaining about their treatment in the workplace. The women say they were the target of sexual harassment and abuse, and they were let go when they went to management with their concerns. The allegations presented in both cases are significant, and Calgary residents are likely unsurprised to note the case is being taken very seriously by the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench. 

The two lawsuits, filed July 26 and Aug. 4 respectively, paint a grim picture of a work environment where both women were victimized. The suit describes incidents wherein direct supervisors of both women made sexually explicit comments and even engaged in inappropriate touching, including groping of private areas. A more serious incident is described by one of the two women as being "physically and psychologically restrained" from leaving an area before a manager had completed his sexual advance. 

Man and transgender wife sue for harassment

A man in Kentucky who is married to a transgender woman is suing retail giant Amazon after he says they both suffered discrimination in the workplace. The couple is suing Amazon in federal court for punitive and compensatory damages. While this case took place in the United States, some Alberta residents who also experience workplace harassment may painfully relate to the story. 

According to the case file, the couple began working for Amazon back in 2014, but both individuals resigned only a year later, citing "intolerable" workplace conditions. Two months prior to their resignations, they contacted the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to file discrimination complaints. Lawyers representing Amazon have expressed surprise, indicating the company is well-known for its support of the LGBT community.

Handling workplace harassment in startup culture

In today's emergent technologies industry, there are a wealth of companies commonly referred to as "startups." These are typically grassroots tech developers with a limited staff in a high-stress workplace environment. For Alberta residents, this type of workplace can be a breeding ground for harassment, particularly for women who are already underrepresented in the technology industry. In many cases, these companies lack the standard safeguards meant to protect employees from unfair or harassing treatment at work. This is why an understanding of employee rights can be so integral to pursuing harassment lawsuits.

The lack of human resources departments in many tech companies can be detrimental. In a culture defined by playing (as one startup executive said) "fast and loose" with professionalism in the name of creative freedom and team building, the responsibility of handling incidents of harassment often falls to the victim. Not only do these individuals have to handle the initial harassment, but they must also be the ones to address it with management and even with the perpetrators.

Poll shows women face harassment in tech industry

It is no secret that not all Canadian workplaces are safe and welcoming to everyone. Here in Calgary and elsewhere in the country, people of all backgrounds face harassment and bullying in the workplace, not to mention discrimination based on their gender, orientation or race. However, as a recent poll points out, women (especially those who work in emergent tech) tend to suffer sexual harassment far more often than their male counterparts.

A survey conducted by Women in Tech questioned 950 investors, founders and workers in the tech industry. Of the 750 women included in this survey, an astounding 53 percent of women reported being harassed in their workplace. Some 60 percent of those said the harassment was an ongoing problem, most often perpetrated by other employees. It should be noted that almost half of those harassed reported it being perpetrated by their direct supervisors.

RCMP employee wins harassment suit

A landmark decision has been reached in Ontario, which could expand the rights of employees who claim to be the victims of harassment in the workplace. Calgary residents are already aware of how prevalent and pervasive workplace harassment can be, and this is true not just here but all over Canada. It is hoped that the decision of the Ontario Superior Court might bring more attention to harassment in other provinces as well. 

According to the decision that has since been published, a plaintiff said he experienced "adverse treatment" from his superiors in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, where he had been employed since 1998. In 2005, he pursued nomination as a candidate in the federal Progressive Conservative party, which he said led to bullying and other forms of harassment from management. He contended that his superiors had also set out to intentionally damage his reputation and career prospects.


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