Employee can’t choose medical facility after injury: Board

Employer offered taxi ride to nearby clinic but employee refused it and demanded a ride to a different clinic

An Ontario company did not violate its collective agreement by refusing to provide transportation to a medical facility chosen by an employee, the Ontario Arbitration Board has ruled.

Maple Leaf Foods had a collective agreement with its employees in its Burlington, Ont., meat processing plant that stipulated employees who were injured on the job would be supplied transportation to “the appropriate medical facility” or their doctor as needed, and home afterwards. This was in conjunction with the Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, which states an employer must provide transportation to an injured worker “to a hospital or a physician located within a reasonable distance or to the worker’s home.”

Lana Hobe was working as a derinder on a ham processing line on June 14, 2007, when she suffered an injury that caused pain in her arm and neck. She was put on modified duties and continued to experience discomfort in her neck, shoulders, back and arms for the next month.

On July 11, Hobe reinjured her neck, shoulder and arm and went to the nurse’s station. She said she was in “excruciating pain and starting to feel dizzy” and she wanted to go to the hospital. The attending nurse, who claimed Hobe didn’t mention any dizziness, didn’t think it was an emergency and offered to send her by taxi to a walk-in clinic. Hobe insisted on going to a hospital but Maple Leaf said she was on her own if she wanted to do that.

Hobe turned down the offer of a taxi to the walk-in clinic and drove herself. She said she would sue Maple Leaf if anything happened to her and left in tears. However, she did not go to a hospital and instead visited a “centre for ambulatory health services” — essentially another walk-in clinic which was 10 miles farther away from the plant than the one to which Maple Leaf offered to send her.

The board found the collective agreement gave an injured employee the choice between her own doctor and “the appropriate medical facility.” If the employee did not want to see her doctor, then she no longer had discretion and the appropriate facility would be determined by the situation. Maple Leaf’s nurse determined the nearby walk-in clinic was sufficient and offered to provide transportation there.

The board noted Hobe went to a walk-in clinic anyway and there was no evidence the treatment she received there could not have been given at the employer’s choice of clinic.

The board found Maple Leaf fulfilled its obligation under both the collective agreement and the act to provide transportation to an appropriate medical facility and it didn’t violate either by refusing Hobe’s request to take her to a more distant location.

“The employer has an obligation to provide transportation only to a location which is within a reasonable distance of the workplace,” the board said. “Although (Hobe) may have a right under (the act) to choose a provider at a more distant site, the employer’s obligation does not extend beyond a reasonable distance.” See Maple Leaf Consumer Foods v. U.F.C.W., Local 175, 2008 CarswellOnt 8524 (Ont. Arb. Bd.).

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