Minor Change to the OLRB’s Rules of Procedure could have a Major Impact

The Ontario Labour Relations Board (“OLRB”) recently announced that, effective April 1, 2012 its Rules of Procedure will be amended to permit complaints alleging reprisals under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) to be treated as Expedited Proceedings (rule 41).  A “reprisal” under the OHSA is an allegation that an employer threatened or imposed a negative consequence because a worker exercised, attempted to exercise, or inquired about his or her rights under the OHSA.

As an expedited proceeding, the OLRB will have broad powers to conduct proceedings quickly and efficiently.  This will include the power to convene consultations and hearings on short notice, to limit the parties’ opportunities for adducing evidence or making submissions, and even to decide complaints on the basis of written materials filed with or without receiving any additional evidence or hearing from witnesses.

In our view, this is a welcome change.  Many reprisal complaints are dismissed on the basis that the complainant has failed to plead sufficient facts to support a finding that a reprisal was committed (referred to as lacking a “prima facie case”).  By granting the OLRB the power to treat reprisal complaints as expedited proceedings, complainants will be forced to “put their best foot forward” early.  This should greatly assist the OLRB to weed out frivolous complaints.

In light of these changes, it is now more important than ever for employers to engage expert legal advisors early so as to “put their best foot forward” from the outset.  You might not have another chance.

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