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Alberta’s Changing Occupational Safety Laws – A Golden Opportunity

Protecting the health and safety of your employees is vital to achieving a productive and efficient work environment. Occupational safety includes all aspects of physical, mental and social health and safety in a workplace. Every business has inherent health risks and potential safety hazards – some more severe than others.

safety in action

Occupational safety hazards cost businesses money and can result in a loss of productivity, higher insurance costs, litigation risks, decreased morale, and reduced employee retention. Therefore, it is critical for employers to proactively address occupational safety issues and implement preventative procedures.

This year, Alberta raised its minimum standards for workplace health and safety. These changes are designed to protect workers better and ensure they have the same rights and protections as other Canadians. Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, businesses have additional responsibilities and are required to implement preventive measures to avoid accidents, injuries, and health hazards in the workplace. The new law recognizes expanded employee rights, creates new obligations for employers, and enhances the regulatory enforcement powers of the government.

Several specific changes to the new OHS act include:

  • Establishes changes to the workers’ compensation board
  • Establishes joint worksite health and safety committees for workplaces with 20 or more employees
  • Clarifies roles and responsibilities of workplace parties for health and safety
  • Requires businesses with between five and 19 workers to have a health and safety representative in the workplace
  • Requires businesses to report “near miss” incidents to OHS

In addition, some of the general changes to employee protections and benefits include the following specific rights:

  • Knowledge about potential hazards
  • Refusal to accept unsafe work
  • Participation in health and safety discussions
  • Protection from workplace violence and harassment

These changes should be embraced by businesses as a golden opportunity to seriously stand apart from their competitors because their employees will be more productive and their favorable reputation in the community will boost sales and revenue.

If you are a business that is seeking advice or direction on how to be compliant with the new OHS act, RMLO can help. Our lawyers have significant experience assisting our clients with occupational health and safety related issues. Contact us!

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Edmonton Startup Week!

RMLO is happy to be able to support this great event, showcasing some of Edmonton’s best tech talent!

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Sexual Harassment: Creating a Safe Workplace

Safe Workplace #Metoo

Minimizing risk and liability for harassment claims.

Lyndon Thiessen, BA BTH LLB
Senior Partner, RMLO

With public claims of sexual harassment surfacing over the last few years, as well as the #MeToo movement, it’s no wonder many employers are concerned about their responsibility for stopping sexual harassment and how to take necessary precautions.

It’s critical to be proactive, if you have the opportunity, rather than react to an existing complaint. Harassment, as Alberta Human Rights Act states, occurs when an employee experiences unwanted verbal or physical abuse because of race, religion, colour, gender (including identity and expression), physical or mental disability, age, ancestry, place of origin, marital status, source of income, family status or sexual orientation. This act includes all unwelcome verbal and physical harassment by employers, employees or any members of the public.

Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety legislation also includes copious amounts of information regarding sexual harassment in the workplace. The statute states that “Education to increase awareness is key to eliminating workplace violence and harassment.” Implementing this education is best done through ongoing training and communication. Every worker should know their rights and responsibilities for a positive, safe work environment.

The increased media concern has highlighted employer risk, especially if due diligence and prevention measures aren’t in place. To decrease risk, an employer must also show that they took prompt action in correcting offending behaviour.

Here are a few questions to see if your company is fulfilling its responsibilities to minimize potential threats and keep the workplace safe.

  • Is there a sexual harassment policy in place?
  • Is this policy up-to-date and reader-friendly?
  • Do your employees have access to it?
  • Have your staff, both employees and managers, been trained in your policy and practices?
  • Does your team have a procedure in place for when an incident occurs?
  • Are there sanctions in place in the event of a breach of the policy?
  • Do you have resources for managing the risks, including training for those who will be investigating the potential complaints?

It’s never too late to put these policies and procedures in place. Contact RMLO today!

Lyndon Thiessen

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Predatory Rent-to-Own? That Could Net You a $250,000 Fine!

This is what gives Rent-to-Own (a.k.a. Lease-Options) a bad name.

The British Columbia real estate regulator issued a rare ‘Emergency Suspension’ to a BC realtor and his company. Briefly, the realtor allegedly looked for homeowners in foreclosure. Then he would buy the properties from them at less than market value and rent them back under a Rent-to-Own scheme. The homeowners were always unrepresented by realtors or lawyers.

Here’s the kicker; their rent payments were double their mortgage payments. Of course, if the homeowners could not make the mortgage payment, they could never consistently make a rent payment that was double the mortgage payment! Once they couldn’t make a payment, the realtor would evict them.

Here’s what the regulator said:

The terms were highly disadvantageous, to the point of the ‘rent-to-buy program’ being ‘predatory’ in nature. Mr. Brach offered sellers a lifeline, bailing them out of their immediate financial predicament with foreclosure proceedings, but in return, engineering the purchase of their property—whether in his name or in the name of a numbered company… at less than market value, using the vain hope that they could regain ownership of their property at substantially higher prices.

The BC regulator will undoubtedly confirm the realtor’s suspension and issue a large fine.

A similar situation was found in an Alberta court decision. For the full case, see  Lydian Properties v. Chambers , 2009 ABCA 21. The circumstances were an exact duplicate of those found in the BC matter. The Alberta Court of Appeal upheld the justice in the lower court  who had concluded that the arrangement breached the Unconscionable Transactions Act, the Fair Trading Act, and the criminal interest rate provisions in the Criminal Code. Alternatively, the court rescinded the transaction on the basis of unconscionably.

Here is a summary of the Court of Appeal findings:

A presumption of fraud is created when there is:

  1. proof of inequality in the position of the parties arising out of the ignorance, need, or distress of the weaker, and;
  2. substantial unfairness of the bargain obtained by the stronger party.

The necessary criteria to establish that a transaction is unconscionable are as follows:

  1.  a grossly unfair and improvident transaction;
  2.  a victim’s lack of independent legal advice or other suitable advice;
  3. overwhelming imbalance in bargaining power caused by a victim’s ignorance of business, illiteracy, ignorance of the language of the bargain…or similar disability;
  4.  the other party knowingly taking advantage of this vulnerability.

Note that both the BC regulator and the courts in Alberta made specific reference to the homeowner not having independent legal advice.

I teach investors how to use Rent-to-Own with the intention of it being a win-win situation for buyer and seller. ‘Creative’ real estate strategies are, by their nature, not well known. As much as you might be assisting a homeowner in exactly the way they want, the independent observer might see you taking advantage. Always consider the benefits of having the other side of your creative transaction get independent legal advice. Watch for a future post on use of what we call our CILA letter (Certificate of Independent Legal Advice letter), not quite independent legal advice, but way better than doing nothing at all.

Long-term real estate success as an ethical real estate investor, no matter what strategy you employ, depends on making sure your transactions are win-win. Yes, you might achieve some short-term success by beating up or taking advantage of the other side.  But, that is a fool’s game sure to collapse on you. Stick to what we know works. Understand your strategy, market hard to find opportunities, do your homework, and put together a win-win deal.

Original blog post published on November 16, 2017 in

Barry McGuire: Real Estate Lawyer, Edmonton.

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