November 27, 2014

Earlier this year, class action lawsuits were filed against the Canadian Hockey League alleging that the players were in fact employees and entitled to the protection of minimum employment standards legislation. Stuart Rudner posits in a recent article in the Toronto Star that, looking at all the factors, it’s hard to see how the players would not be considered employees:

Six leading employment and tax lawyers interviewed by the Star say the 60-team CHL faces an uphill battle trying to defend against class-action lawsuits alleging its players are employees deserving of minimum wage and benefits.

“Looking at all of the factors . . . it’s hard for me to imagine that these players are not employees,” says Toronto employment lawyer Stuart Rudner. “The clubs tell these players everything, including when to eat, when to show up, when to have a pre-game nap, all of which are hallmarks of an employee who is not independent.”

The allegations have not been proven in court and league officials have said they will defend themselves against the claim in court.

A week after the Star first reported on a class-action suit filed in Toronto against the CHL claiming $180 million in damages and unpaid minimum wages for thousands of players, a new $60-million suit was filed Friday in Calgary and another $50-million suit in Montreal Thursday targeting two of the CHL’s three regional leagues — the Western Hockey League and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

The leagues “knew or recklessly disregarded the fact that the relationship between the club and (players) was one of employer/employee, and as such the contracts contravened employment standards legislation, yet required the contracts be signed so as to avoid paying the (players) minimum wages, vacation pay, holiday pay or overtime pay,” the claim alleges.


An arbitration decision earlier this year in Ontario suggests a zero tolerance approach to discipline for safety violations can be unfair to the employee. An employee was suspended for 3 days following a finding that he violated the company’s zero tolerance policy for alcohol. A search of his vehicle one day found a half consumed bottle of flavoured alcohol in the trunk under camping equipment. The employee had borrowed his wife’s car that day and it had been previously used by the employee’s daughter on a camping trip and she had not yet unpacked the trunk. He was unaware of the presence of the vodka and the company admitted it had no reason to disbelieve him. Nonetheless, minimum punishment imposed. The arbitrator wrote:

I accept that in the interest of workplace safety the Company is justified in adopting an approach of zero tolerance for breaches of that rule, to the extent that each and every incident is to be investigated and appropriate discipline imposed. I reject the imposition of an automatic penalty of suspension without regard to the totality of the circumstances as inconsistent with the just cause standard set out in the collective agreement.

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