On February 24, Bill 14, An Act to ensure the Protection of Trainees in the workplace (hereinafter the “Act”), received assent. The purpose of this Act is to provide better protection for people completing a training in a workplace. For this reason, it contains several provisions similar to those found in the Act respecting labour standards1 (hereinafter the “ALS”). First of all, the Act covers training that is required to obtain a permit to practice issued by a professional order or as part of a program of studies or training program offered by an educational institution that leads to a diploma, certificate or attestation of studies.2 The protection of trainees applies whether the training is paid or not and regardless of where the training is carried out in the workplace, as long as the employer’s residence, domicile, business, head office or office is located in Quebec. It also applies to trainees domiciled or resident in Quebec who do training outside Quebec with an employer.3 OBLIGATIONS FOR THE EMPLOYER The employer, the educational institution and the professional order must inform all trainees of the rights provided for in the Act, allow trainees to be absent for the various reasons provided for in the Act, and ensure that the successful completion of the studies or training, or the obtainment of the permit to practice, is not compromised by the exercise of a right provided for in the Act.4 The legislator expressly provides that the standards relating to training conditions contained in this Act are of public order and that any provision of an agreement or decree that departs from them is absolutely null.5 However, as is the case with the ALS, it is possible to grant trainees more advantageous conditions for completing the training than those prescribed by this Act. PROTECTIONS FOR TRAINEES In line with the provisions already found in the ALS, the Act expands the protection of trainees with respect to statutory holidays, absences and psychological harassment. Statutory holidays: A trainee may be absent from their training on the following days:6 January 1; Good Friday or Easter Monday (employer’s choice); The Monday preceding May 25; June 24; July 1 (or, if this date falls on a Sunday, July 2); The first Monday in September; The second Monday in October ; December 25. However, if the trainee is required to participate in their training on any of these days, they are entitled to a compensatory holiday of one day, to be taken during the training period done with the same employer. There are special provisions for the statutory holiday on June 24.7 Absences due to sickness or family/parental reasons: A trainee may be absent from their training on the following days: Ten (10) days per year due to sickness, to fulfill obligations related to the care, health or education of the trainee’s child or spouse’s child, or due to the health condition of a relative or person for whom the trainee is acting as a caregiver;8 One (1) or five (5) days on the occasion of the death or funeral of a close relative, with the length of the absence determined by the relationship;9 One (1) day on the day of their wedding or civil union, or that of one of the family members listed;10 Five (5) days on the occasion of the birth or adoption of a child, or when a termination of pregnancy occurs after the twentieth (20th) week of pregnancy;11 and For a medical examination related to the trainee’s pregnancy.12 Psychological harassment: The Act provides that every trainee has the right to a training environment free of psychological harassment. The employer and, as the case may be, the educational institution or professional order, must take reasonable measures to prevent psychological harassment and, when such conduct is brought to their attention, to protect the trainee and put a stop to it. The psychological harassment prevention and complaint processing policy must be made available to trainees and applied to them with the necessary adaptations.13 RECOURSE The Commission des normes, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (hereinafter, the “CNESST”) supervises the implementation and application of the training conditions provided for in the Act.14 Prohibited practices: No employer, educational institution or professional order, or their agents, may end training or dismiss, suspend or transfer, practise discrimination or take reprisals against, or otherwise impose any sanction on a trainee as a result of the trainee exercising a right under the Act, or for certain grounds under section 122 of the ALS.15 A trainee who believes that they have been the victim of a prohibited practice may file a complaint with the CNESST within forty-five (45) days of the occurrence. A non-profit organization dedicated to the defence of students’ rights, a students’ association or a students’ association alliance can also file a complaint with the CNESST on behalf of a trainee who consents to it.16 If it is established to the satisfaction of the Administrative Labour Tribunal (ALT) that the trainee exercised a right arising from the Act, there is a simple presumption in the trainee’s favour that the sanction or measure was imposed because of the exercise of that right. In this case, the employer, educational institution or professional order has to prove that the sanction or action was taken for good and sufficient reason.17 Psychological harassment: A trainee or, as the case may be, a non-profit organization dedicated to the defence of students’ rights, a students’ association or a students’ association alliance, can file a complaint with the CNESST if the trainee believes they have been a victim of psychological harassment. This complaint must be filed within two (2) years of the last occurrence of the conduct. However, the trainee may not file a complaint with the CNESST if they are an employee covered by a collective agreement, insofar as a recourse against psychological harassment is available to the employee under the agreement.18 If the ALT concludes that a trainee has been the victim of a prohibited practice or psychological harassment, it may, among other things, order that the trainee be reinstated in their training with all their rights and privileges, that accommodation measures be implemented, or order to comply with any other measure intended to safeguard the trainee's rights, such as a provisional order.19 PENAL SANCTIONS Any person that contravenes the Act, including by offering training conditions inferior to those specified in the Act, is liable to a fine of $600 to $1,200 and, in the case of a subsequent offence, $1,200 to $6,000.20 The members of our Labour and Employment Law group are available to advise you and answer your questions. CQLR, c. N-1.1. Section 1. Section 1. Section 4. Section 6. Sections 9 and 10. Section 10. Depending on the situation, trainees have the right to be absent on June 25 or the right to a compensatory holiday of one day, to be taken either on the business day before or after June 24, or during the training period done with the same employer. Section 11. Sections 12 and 13. Section 14. Section 15. Section 17. Section 19. Section 7. Section 20. Section 21. Section 25. Section 26. Section 30. Section 32.
Rosemarie Bhérer Bouffard Lawyer
- Québec, 2019
Rosemarie joined Lavery as an articling student in 2019. She completed her bachelor of law degree at Université Laval in 2018.
During her studies, she volunteered with the legal information clinic at Université Laval and the Quebec association for the defence of the rights of retired and pre-retired persons.
- LL.B. (Honour Roll of the Faculty of Law), Université Laval, 2018
- Certificate in law, Université Laval, 2015
Boards and Professional Affiliations
- Association québécoise de défense des droits des personnes retraitées et préretraitées, 2018, student
- Bureau d’information juridique de l’Université Laval, 2018, volunteer
- Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions, 2017, student
Over the years, the Quebec courts have repeatedly stated that dismissed employees have a duty to mitigate the damages they suffer as a result of a dismissal. This obligation, which is now codified in the Civil Code of Québec,1 has been adapted to the circumstances of the cases over which the courts have presided. The question, then, is whether the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to have an impact on a dismissed employee’s obligation to mitigate damages. The Administrative Labour Tribunal (hereinafter the “ALT”) addressed this issue in its recent decision Tourigny c. Fonds de solidarité des travailleurs du Québec (FTQ)2 (hereinafter the “Tourigny decision”). Background On August 30, 2021, the ALT upheld Ms. Tourigny’s complaint against a dismissal made without a good and sufficient cause under section 124 of the Act respecting labour standards.3 The complainant, who held a position as director of the Direction Marketing Investissement department before being dismissed on January 28, 2019, claimed, in particular, the wages she lost as a result of her dismissal up to the date of the ALT decision upholding her complaint. The employer argued that the complainant had failed in her duty to mitigate her losses. For her part, the complainant felt that she had done everything in her power to find a job quickly. It should be noted that the COVID-19 pandemic began while the complaint was being heard in court. Decision on the obligation to mitigate losses The ALT reiterated, quoting the decision in Durocher c. Lisam America Inc.,4 that dismissed employees have a duty to mitigate damages resulting from their dismissal, even when they are dismissed without good and sufficient cause. This obligation is one of means and is assessed based on the circumstances of each case using the reasonable person test. The ALT further noted, quoting the decision in Agropur, Division Natrel c. Teamsters Québec local 1999 (Montpetit),5 that the duty to mitigate damages consists of two components, namely (1) to make reasonable efforts to find new employment, and (2) not to refuse an offer of employment that is reasonable in the circumstances. In the Tourigny decision, the ALT confirmed that the complainant had failed to mitigate her losses. As such, it reduced the indemnity for lost wages by $34,000, finding that, given the pandemic and the scarcity of job offers, the complainant should have conducted a more thorough job search and been more open to positions that did not perfectly match the job she held prior to her dismissal. Thus, the ALT stated the following:  For the Tribunal, during a recession or even a pandemic, when job offers are less important and less financially attractive than in normal times, one must, on one hand, expect to conduct a more rigorous search.  On the other hand, one must be more open to offers which, even if they do not correspond exactly to those held in the previous job, are related to the expertise or jobs already held. [our translation]In short, with the pandemic in mind, the ALT deducted two (2) months of gross salary from the indemnity for lost wages, which amounted to $34,000, because: The complainant had taken two (2) trips abroad of about ten days each in the first few months following her dismissal, and the employer did not have to assume the financial consequences of the complainant’s choice to do so; The complainant had been in a management position for a short time and limited her job search to positions similar to the one she held prior to her dismissal. However, limiting herself to management positions with working conditions similar to those she had with the employer—which were exceptional—did not demonstrate a willingness to mitigate her damages. Thus, according to the ALT, the complainant had set aside several positions that could have provided her with a substantial income; and The complainant had applied for only one job during the first eight (8) months following her dismissal and thirty-eight (38) jobs over the next twenty (20) months, that is, fewer than two (2) jobs per month. Her job search efforts were therefore not considered sufficient. Conclusion In short, the Tourigny decision confirms that the context in which employees find themselves is relevant in determining the extent of their obligation to mitigate the damages they suffer as a result of their dismissal. In theory, employers should not be penalized when a dismissed employee fails to put in the necessary effort to find a job during challenging economic times. In circumstances such as these, arising from, say, a pandemic, a dismissed employee must make greater efforts to find a job, failing which the indemnity paid by their former employer may be reduced considerably. The members of our Labour and Employment Law group are available to counsel you and answer your questions. CQLR, c. CCQ 1991, art. 1479. 2021 QCTAT 5548. CQLR, c. N-1.1. 2020 QCTAT 4648. 2018 QCTA 445.
The Supreme Court of Canada has previously addressed this issue in Evans v. Teamsters Local Union No. 311 and concluded that, in certain circumstances, when an employer offers a new position to a dismissed employee, the latter may have to accept it in order to mitigate their losses. A few years later, in 2108805 Ontario inc. c. Boulad,2 the Court of Appeal stated that such acceptance is not automatically required because an employee cannot be forced to accept a position offered without mutual understanding and respect between the parties. More recently, the courts have indicated that acceptance of a position with a former employer is indeed not automatically required and emphasized the importance of analyzing the totality of the circumstances when determining whether an employee must accept an offer from their former employer. In short, the issue is whether a reasonable person in the same situation would accept the employer’s offer. Both the tangible aspects, such as the nature and conditions of employment, as well as the intangible aspects, such as work climate and the preservation of the employee’s dignity, are essential and must be considered. Mitigation of damages In determining whether an employee has been constructively dismissed, the question is whether a reasonable person in the same circumstances would have considered there to be a substantial change to the essential conditions of their employment contract. In St-Laurent c. Cosmétiques Baronesse inc.,3 the Administrative Labour Tribunal («ALT») responded to this question by confirming that each situation is unique. In this case, the ALT concluded, on the basis of all the facts and the relationship between the parties, that the plaintiff was not required to mitigate her damages by agreeing to a change of territory, given that such a change was not compatible with her family obligations. The employer, a distributor of cosmetic products for beauty salon and spa professionals, had offered the plaintiff, a resident of Chambly, the position of sales representative for the South Shore. The territory for which she would have been responsible stretched from Boucherville to Drummondville, and from Brossard to Sherbrooke. It also included Vaudreuil. When a portion of Montréal’s downtown and the West Island was added to her territory, the plaintiff, who had joint custody of her children and had them in her care every other week, was given flexibility in her schedule to care for her children. After an absence due to disability, the plaintiff was informed of the need to adhere to a strict schedule and that, because of client complaints, she would instead be assigned to the territory of the North Shore (Laval, Laurentides, Ottawa and Gatineau), with the obligation to work more than 40 hours per week, despite her attending physician’s advice to the contrary. The ALT first pointed out that the undisputed evidence showed that the plaintiff had initially accepted the representative position because the employer offered her the opportunity to work on the South Shore and a flexible schedule. The ALT added that the employer had not established policies or practices whereby territorial changes could be made on a regular basis or in certain circumstances. Finally, the ALT noted the employer’s failure to attempt to adjust the schedule or sales territory, even though it had hired two representatives to replace the plaintiff and reorganized the territory for them. Placed in this situation without further modification, the plaintiff had no choice but to refuse the changes. The ALT confirmed the absence of a resignation and upheld the complaint for constructive dismissal. Notice of termination Dismissed employees have a duty to mitigate their damages, meaning that they must make reasonable efforts to find employment in their field or a related field, and they must not refuse offers of employment that are deemed to be reasonable in the circumstances. The assessment of a reasonable notice period is a question of fact that must take into consideration the specifics of the entire situation. The question of whether the notice period should be reduced due to the employees’ failure to fulfil their obligation to mitigate their damages—which is an obligation of means—is also essentially a question of fact.4 This is another example of something which requires a case-by-case assessment. What to look for when assessing the terms offered to a person facing a termination of employment In short, although it may be reasonable for an employee whose position has been eliminated to accept a job offered by their employer to mitigate their damages, it is not a given. All facts and circumstances must be considered. In assessing the position and terms offered to such an employee, and in order to validly claim that the employee is required to mitigate their damages, a prudent manager should determine whether there are barriers to continued employment under these conditions. In particular, this manager should consider whether a reasonable person placed in the same situation would accept the position, notably because the employee would not suffer embarrassment, humiliation, hostility or loss of dignity in doing so. Our Labour and Employment Law team is available to advise you and answer your questions. 2008 SCC 20. 2016 QCCA 75. 2021 QCTAT 3732. CISSS des Laurentides c. St-Arnaud, 2021 QCSC 2071.
Lavery is pleased to announce that it has hired five of its articling students as associates. Rosemarie Bhérer Bouffard has joined the Labour and Employment Law group. During her studies, she volunteered with the legal information clinic at Université Laval and the Quebec association for the defence of the rights of retired and pre-retired persons. Shereen Cook has joined the Business Law group. During her studies, she assumed the position of director of the law moot court program: Les simulations de procès - Travaille en Cour, which led her to cooperate with jurists and other legal professionals to draft legal cases. Katerina Kostopoulos has joined the Business Law group. Prior to law school, Katerina obtained a Bachelor of Arts from McGill University with a major in Political Science and a double minor in Philosophy and Neo-Hellenic Studies. Élizabeth Martin-Chartrand has joined the Litigation and Conflict Resolution group. While a law student, Élizabeth served on the executive committees of the University of Ottawa’s Canadian Student Association for Children’s Rights and the Criminal Law Association, and as columnist for the student newspaper. Jean-François Maurice has joined the Business Law group. During his university studies, Jean-François was involved in various student organizations, often as treasurer of the club or organization. While attending Peking University, he also served as a research assistant in connection with several publications in corporate and business law.