In a significant first, an employer in Ontario has been prosecuted for a COVID-19 related death.
On June 6, 2022, Scotlynn Sweetpac Growers Inc. (“Scotlynn”) pleaded guilty and was convicted of failing to take every precaution reasonable during a COVID-19 outbreak at its farming operation that led to one fatality, according to a bulletin from the Ontario Court of Justice.
Scotlynn was fined $125,000 plus a 25% victim surcharge pursuant to the Provincial Offences Act (Ontario) for violating subsection 66(1) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (Ontario).
Outbreak Saw Three Workers Hospitalized
The first COVID-19 case at Scotlynn was identified early in the pandemic on May 28, 2020. The next day, the Haldimand Norfolk Health Unit declared an outbreak after 196 of 216 workers tested positive. Three workers were hospitalized and one died as a result of a COVID-19 infection.
Workers at the farming operation lived together in bunkhouses that accommodated between eight and 50 people. Despite the shared living accommodations, Scotlynn did not take steps to isolate symptomatic workers from other workers. Before being hospitalized, the worker who later died was bedridden for several days in a bunkhouse with other workers. The workers had symptoms typical of COVID-19 but were not isolated.
The employer was convicted of failing to take the reasonable precaution of isolating COVID-19 symptomatic workers from other workers to prevent the spread of the virus at the workplace, contrary to s. 66(1) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (Ontario).
Employers Must Remain Vigilant
It is important to note that this outbreak took place early in the COVID-19 pandemic when information on the disease and its transmission was at its lowest.
However, this decision reinforces that employers should continue to remain vigilant and consider the precautions they can take to protect workers from the transmission of COVID-19. Protocols should be made specific to the requirements of your workplace and should take into consideration the greater knowledge and information on the disease at this point in the pandemic.
MLT Aikins will continue to monitor developments in this area and provide updates on legal issues that may affect employers. In the meantime, please do not hesitate to reach out to our Labour & Employment team for any questions about navigating the legal issues in your organization.
Note: This article is of a general nature only and is not exhaustive of all possible legal rights or remedies. In addition, laws may change over time and should be interpreted only in the context of particular circumstances such that these materials are not intended to be relied upon or taken as legal advice or opinion. Readers should consult a legal professional for specific advice in any particular situation.