Different but hopefully equal?

Supreme Court of Canada considers application of federal and provincial employment standards, workers compensation legislation to federal employees
By Curtis Marble
|employmentlawtoday.com|Last Updated: 04/22/2013

The Supreme Court of Canada has granted leave in an appeal about whether provincial or federal legislation governs workplace compensation for federal workers. If the decision of the Alberta Court of Appeal in Martin v. Alberta (Workers’ Compensation Board) is upheld, federal workers may find that their claims for accident-related compensation will be determined by provincial standards rather than solely the provisions of the federal Government Employees Compensation Act.

Douglas Martin commenced a labour complaint against his employer, Parks Canada. Subsequently, Parks Canada instructed Martin to release data on his work computer so that Parks Canada could comply with a request for information. Martin alleged this request triggered a mental health condition that required him to take leave and ultimately prompted a claim for compensation.

The Alberta Workers' Compensation Board (WCB) determined that Martin was ineligible for compensation because he did not meet the provincial WCB’s eligibility criteria under the province’s Workers’ Compensation Act (WCA).

The chambers judge found that federal workers who made claims in Alberta had a right to have a determination of their eligibility for compensation determined only by reference to s. 4(1)(a)(i) of the federal Government Employees Compensation Act (GECA) The judge found that the definition of “accident” in the GECA had been incorporated into s. 4 (1) (a) (i) of the act, and this definition set the sole measure for eligibility where federal employees were concerned.

The Court of Appeal overturned that decision, finding instead that the provisions of both the provincial and federal acts applied to federal employees, and that the federal legislation either incorporated — or was at least consistent with — the provincial legislation.

As a result, it was determined that employees must satisfy the terms of the WCB's policy with respect to their claims. The language of the Federal Act should not be read as an imposition upon the Alberta board to apply different criteria to federal workers. Instead, the Court of Appeal found at paragraph 31 that there is "no conflict between the GECA and the WCA as to the criteria that Martin must satisfy to qualify for the claimed compensation."


The Supreme Court of Canada will have the opportunity to determine whether both provincial and federal legislation applies to federal employees. While the Court of Appeal in the Martin case found that the federal statute and the WCB’s policy were not incompatible for the purpose of the present case, if there is an incompatibility, then the Federal statute would prevail. Accordingly, this means that if the Supreme Court finds that the Court of Appeal was correct, federal workers would not be required to satisfy the same criteria as workers subject to provincial legislation in the case of a conflict between federal and provincial legislation.

For more information see:

• Martin v. Alberta (Workers’ Compensation Board), 2013 CarswellAlta 251 (S.C.C.).

Curtis E. Marble is an associate in the Litigation Group of McCarthy Tétrault in Calgary. He practises in a number of litigation areas, in particular international arbitration and commercial litigation. He can be reached at (403) 260-3584 or cmarble@mccarthy.ca. Material in this work is for general educational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances.

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