During times of crisis, such as the record-breaking wildfires currently burning throughout Western Canada, employers face a number of unique challenges and obligations.
Calgary labour and employment lawyer Aaron Marchadour spoke with Canadian HR Reporter about some important considerations for employers and HR professionals when facing this kind of natural disaster. These include meeting occupational health and safety (OHS) obligations, implementing emergency response plans and communication procedures, and addressing work refusals, temporary layoffs and more.
Aaron spoke of the need to evaluate potential worksite hazards arising from wildfires, including the potential for emergency evacuation and issues relating to poor air quality.
“Under OHS legislation, there are specific requirements around emergency preparedness and emergency response,” Aaron said. “And those are typically triggered when you have a potential evacuation requirement, or where there is a rescue requirement, potentially on the worksite.” Advance planning around communication channels, employee transportation and safe evacuation sites is needed.
Aaron also spoke of the fact that employers may need to adapt the way work is carried out to address hazards associated with poor air quality. There are also potential human rights considerations for employers to consider if employees have medical conditions requiring accommodation due to poor air quality.
“Employers need to be aware, obviously, that employees have a right to refuse unsafe work or dangerous work, but… if you as an organization have reasonably concluded it is safe to attend work, then employees should be attending work,” Aaron noted, cautioning that employers need to carefully address work refusals with a health and safety dimension and seek legal advice before proceeding with disciplining employees or alleging job abandonment in these circumstances.