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Different but Hopefully Equal? Federal and Provincial Employment Standards to be Considered by the Supreme Court

Posted in Administrative, Case Previews, Labour and Employment
Curtis E. Marble

The Supreme Court of Canada has granted leave in an appeal about whether provincial or federal legislation governs workplace compensation for federal workers.  If the decision of the Court of Appeal in Martin v. Alberta (Workers’ Compensation Board), 2012 ABCA 248 is upheld, federal workers may find that their claims for accident-related compensation will be determined by provincial standards rather than solely the provisions of the federal Government Employees Compensation Act

Background

Martin commenced a labour complaint against his employer, Parks Canada. Subsequently, Parks Canada instructed Martin to release data on his work computer so that Parks Canada could comply with a  request for information. Martin alleged this request triggered a mental health condition that required him to take leave and ultimately prompted a claim for compensation.

The Board determined that Martin was ineligible for compensation because he did not meet the provincial WCB’s eligibility criteria under the province’s Workers’ Compensation Act.

The chambers judge found that federal workers who made claims in Alberta had a right to have a determination of their eligibility for compensation determined only by reference to s. 4(1)(a)(i) of the federal Government Employees Compensation Act. The judge found that the definition of “accident” in the Government Employees Compensation Act had been incorporated into s. 4 (1) (a) (i) of the Act, and this definition set the sole measure for eligibility where federal employees were concerned.

Held

The Court of Appeal overturned that decision, finding instead that the provisions of both the provincial and federal acts applied to federal employees, and that the federal legislation either incorporated – or was at least consistent with - the provincial legislation.

As a result, it was determined that employees must satisfy the terms of the Board’s policy with respect to their claims. The language of the Federal Act should not be read as an imposition upon the Alberta Board to apply different criteria to federal workers. Instead, the Court of Appeal found at paragraph 31 that there is “…no conflict between the GECA and the WCA as to the criteria that Martin must satisfy to qualify for the claimed compensation.”

Significance

The Supreme Court of Canada will have the opportunity to determine whether both provincial and federal legislation applies to federal employees. While the Court of Appeal in the Martin case found that the federal statute and the Board’s policy were not incompatible for the purpose of the present case, if there is an incompatibility, then the Federal statute would prevail.  Accordingly, this means that if the Supreme Court finds that the Court of Appeal was correct, federal workers would not be required to satisfy the same criteria as workers subject to provincial legislation in the case of a conflict between federal and provincial legislation.

Case Information

Martin v. Alberta (Workers’ Compensation Board), 2013 CanLII 11304 (SCC)

SCC Docket: 35052

Date of Decision: March 7, 2013