Teen’s death prompts calls for late-shift policies

Ottawa teenager killed walking home at 12:30 a.m. after work

In response to public outcry for laws forcing employers to get workers home safely at night, a number of companies have said they’ll voluntarily review policies.

Concerns about late-shift safety were stirred last month after the killing of an Ottawa teenager.

Jennifer Teague, an 18-year-old employee of Wendy’s restaurant chain, was last seen walking home along a bike path around 12:30 a.m. on Sept. 8, after the end of her shift.

Her disappearance gave rise to calls for employers to ensure workers’ safety on their way home or to work.

Emile Therien, president of the Canada Safety Council, said considering the average age of workers in the fast-food industry, getting workers home safely should be an employer responsibility.

“You’re asking very young kids — most of them under 19 — to leave these places at very late hours when there’s no public transportation. There’s no assurance that they’ll get home safely.”

With a federal commission going across the country to hear feedback on needed updates to federal labour standards legislation, New Democratic Party labour critic David Christopherson has told the press that he’s asking for the review to consider “legislating some responsibility on the part of employers” to make sure young workers have safe rides home after a late shift.

Likewise, Conservative Party labour critic Ed Komarnicki told reporters that the review is a good occasion to debate the issue. He added that there should be “some provision” to make sure workers have a way of getting home safely.

At the office of federal Labour Minister Joe Fontana, staff lobbed the issue back at provincial labour departments, saying such an obligation could be contained in provincial labour laws, as they cover 90 per cent of the workforce.

Provincial regulations already exist in Manitoba requiring employers to cover the cost of transportation for staff who start or end work between midnight and 6 a.m. In Saskatchewan, employers in the restaurant and food services industry have to provide employees with free transportation if their shifts end between 12:30 a.m. and 7 a.m.

In Ontario, Premier Dalton McGuinty brushed off suggestions that worker safety travelling to and from work should be encoded in law. The province’s labour minister, Steve Peters, instead urged employers to bring in policies of their own accord to make sure late-shift workers are safe.

At the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association, senior vice-president Joyce Reynolds cautioned against legislating policies that may not be feasible in all circumstances.

Members of the association already use a range of practices — including carpools, cab fares, and rides home provided by managers, said Reynolds.

“I think it would be hard to come up with a legislated response that’s going to cover off every situation. And in many ways, individual companies are in the best positions to develop policies that meet the safety and security of their own employees. And if we can play a co-ordinating role, that’s what we’re prepared to do.”

She added that the issue has been added to the agenda of the board of director’s meeting this month.

“We’re obviously going to probe our members about the impact” that laws on transportation home have had on businesses in provinces such as Manitoba and Saskatchewan, said Reynolds, who’s in charge of the governmental affairs portfolio.

“But what may work in a rural location may not work in a large urban centre. When you look at a huge metropolitan area, somebody who lives in Brampton may work in downtown Toronto. And trying to pay the cab fare for every single employee to get home in a broad geographical area — that may not be realistic.”

At Wendy’s, spokesperson Desmond Edwards said the chain has recommended changes to “clarify” the responsibility of everyone, including that of employees to arrange their transportation.

“We want to make sure that if a staff member all of a sudden found out their parent can’t pick them up because there’s a miscommunication or something came up, they don’t have to find their own way home.”

At Tim Horton’s, spokesperson Greg Skinner said the 24-hour donut chain is reviewing policies in light of Teague’s tragic death. He added, however, that with shifts starting at 11 p.m. and finishing at 7 a.m., “we don’t have workers leaving at 1 or 2 o’clock in the morning. When they’re here they can’t even leave the store to take the garbage out.”

At McDonald’s, spokesperson Kim Roman said the chain already has programs in place to make sure “an employee has pre-arranged transportation home or is provided door-to-door rides with a manager, a fellow employee or a fellow employee’s parent where necessary.”

“In the case where an employee is unable to co-ordinate transportation home in this fashion, transportation via taxi is co-ordinated and paid for by McDonald’s.”

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