Truck driver protests modified duties after injury

You make the call

This edition of You Make the Call features a truck driver who had medical limitations on the type of truck he could drive.

Terry Hoet was a truck driver for Prairie Pride Natural Foods, a poultry processing plant in Saskatoon. Previously, he worked with another food company boxing hams, which involved repetitive work and led to him developing tendonitis in both arms. However, when Hoet applied for his job with Prairie Pride in 2008, he indicated on his application that he had no previous injuries or medical conditions that would prevent him from completing his duties as a truck driver as nothing had been bothering him recently.

Prairie Pride used two types of trailers to haul poultry — a roll-up style with a ratchet crank that rolled and unrolled a tarpaulin and raised the operator’s arms as the tarp went higher, and a curtain trailer that had the tarpaulin slide on rollers from side to side with a ratchet at the bottom. In 2012, Hoet told his supervisor his tendonitis was aggravated by using the ratchet on the roll-up trailer, so he was accommodated by only driving curtain trailers, which he could operate without any problems.

In August 2015, Prairie Pride acquired a climate-controlled trailer that had better conditions for the poultry during transit. In November, the company informed its drivers that the new trailer was to be used every day to haul broiler chickens and all full-time drivers would be assigned a week each with that trailer. Any driver who refused to use the climate-controlled trailer would be considered to be resigning from their position with Prairie Pride.

Hoet asked the logistics manager to be excused from using the climate-controlled trailer as he believed it would aggravate the tendonitis in his arms. He was told to get a doctor’s note, so he submitted a note stating he had to avoid lifting and repetitive work. He later submitted a physical assessment analysis form from his doctor that indicated he could lift up to 20 kilograms and could not use a ratchet.

The company was concerned about the ratchet restriction, as all of its trailers had ratchets. This included the new climate-controlled trailer, which was similar to the curtain trailers but had multiple ratchets to operate various tarp modules.

Hoet had another assessment analysis performed by his doctor, which stated Hoet could only use modified trailers with “no repetitive movements of wrists and elbows.” This concerned the company, as it didn’t have any modified trailers and previously there hadn’t been a restriction on repetitive movements for Hoet’s wrists and elbows.

Management met with Hoet and he insisted he could continue to operate curtain trailers. However, Prairie Pride decided to place him on modified duties at his regular pay as of Dec. 28, 2015, that met his stated restrictions until it could get a full occupational assessment.

The occupational assessment was performed on Jan. 18, 2016, and the ensuing report recommended Hoet only use the curtain trailer, as he had “a high risk of harm if he were to use the ratchet strap on a repetitive basis.” It also concluded he could “immediately resume his duties as a driver on the curtain style trailer.” His first shift was scheduled for Jan. 31.

The union filed a grievance complaining Prairie Pride didn’t meet its duty to accommodate and discriminated against Hoet when it put him on modified duties for one month — the modified duties cost Hoet opportunities for overtime as a regular truck driver that he could have performed while driving the curtain style trailer.

 

You Make the Call

Did the company discriminate against the driver by holding him to modified duties?

OR

Was the company entitled to put the driver on modified duties?

 

If you said the company was entitled to put Hoet on modified duties, you're right. The arbitrator found that the medical information wasn’t clear, as the restrictions on ratchets or repetitive wrist and elbow movements meant he couldn’t work as a truck driver — all of the trailers had a ratchet and none were modified. Even though Hoet wanted to continue his regular job using curtain trailers, the information the company had “was insufficient to allow (Hoet) to return to his regular job,” said the arbitrator. Until the company had information that confirmed Hoet could go back to his regular duties — which it eventually received in late January 2016 — the choice of how to accommodate was Prairie Pride’s based on the information.

The arbitrator also found that Prairie Pride never prevented Hoet from working with his disability, as it provided him with modified duties at his regular pay while the accommodation process moved along.

“The employees’ choice in pursuit of employment is the right to be accommodated due to a disability and to work in a modified position to the point of undue hardship of the employer,” said the arbitrator. “In this case, (Hoet) did not have a choice to continue to work regular duties when his disability called into question the ability to perform such duties.”

The arbitrator determined it was reasonable to place Hoet on modified duties pending the functional assessment. See UFCW, Local 1400 and Prairie Pride Natural Foods Ltd. (Hoet), Re, 134 C.L.A.S. 268 (Sask. Arb.).

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