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JAILED B.C. EMPLOYER CAUGHT IN STATUTORY NET

For employer Arthur Moore, doing business as AM Environmental, 2012 has started off in an unpleasant way.  He has landed in jail for 60 days as a result of ignoring court orders arising from his unsafe operation of his demolition business.

Moore and his companies repeatedly exposed workers – some of them quite young and quite vulnerable – to asbestos.  In 2010, Moore was the subject of a court order preventing him from continuing to do business.

The order stated, “Arthur Moore, doing business as AM Environmental, is restrained from doing business in the asbestos abatement business and the demolition or drywall removal business, and without limiting the generality of the foregoing, from providing hazardous material inspections and reports, environmental assessments, hazardous materials surveys and testing, asbestos abatement services or testing, until further order of the court.”

Nonetheless, Moore continued to operate in the demolition business under various trade names. Evidence from an employee indicated that he had worked on 15 to 16 sites following service of the court’s restraining order.

B.C.`s Workers’ Compensation Board brought contempt proceedings when it learned Moore was continuing to do business in violation of the order.  In October, 2011 Moore was found guilty of contempt.

At that time, the Court determined “His misconduct grievously endangered workers under his direction. Unless he can in some way mitigate his indifference to the lives and safety of his workers and his open defiance of the injunction, his misconduct requires a severe response.”

The Court further determined that Moore did not provide proper safety training or equipment to his employees and that this was exacerbated by his targeted recruitment of vulnerable workers.  His conduct was found to pose “a significant public safety concern.”

In sentencing him to 60 days in jail, the court stated “Mr. Moore’s indifference to the lives and safety of his workers and his open defiance of the injunction requires a severe response.  Mr. Moore put in danger the lives and safety of others and continued to do so in the face of a court order.  Others must know that they cannot ignore injunctions obtained to protect worker safety with impunity.”

The Court stated, directly to Mr. Moore, “You deliberately flaunted for an extended time a court order intended to protect worker safety.  You did so within a day of being served with the order.  Such conduct cannot go unpunished.  Taking into account the seriousness of the contempt, the protection of the public, and the degree of intention involved in the contemptuous conduct, I sentence you to a period of incarceration of 60 days.”

I cannot recall the last time an employer so thoroughly and persistently ignored its legal obligations that its owner ended up in jail.  That’s a good thing, I’m sure.

This whole episode is notable to me not just because of the audacity and thick-headedness of Mr. Moore but because it reminds me of a discussion I’ve had a hundred or more times with employer clients.

Employers, when we are discussing the tight web of statutory obligations they face, will often comment to me that the regulations are too restrictive and make doing business difficult.  They will ask why the rules are so restrictive and, in most cases, inflexible.

Regrettably, the only answer I have for them is that the statutory net has to be woven tightly so as to catch the most likely offenders.  In order to avoid letting the little, slippery fish slip through, the restrictions must be designed in such a fashion that they also end up catch the bigger, compliant ones.

It’s too bad that’s the case, because in my view employers like Arthur Moore and AM Environmental make doing business more difficult and costly for everybody else.  For the moment, Mr. Moore has received his just desserts and I imagine just about everyone, employers and employees alike, is happy to see this fellow in jail.

Robert Smithson is a labour and employment lawyer, and operates Smithson Employment Law in Kelowna. For more information about his practice, or to subscribe to You Work Here, visit www.smithsonlaw.ca.  This subject matter is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.