Home Arbitration/Labour Relations Arbitrator overturns dismissals of three workers on LTD at Trigon Pacific Terminals

Arbitrator overturns dismissals of three workers on LTD at Trigon Pacific Terminals

by HR Law Canada

An arbitrator in British Columbia has overturned the dismissal of three unionized workers at Trigon Pacific Terminals who were on long-term disability (LTD) for more than two years.

The case, which initially included a fourth employee whose situation was resolved earlier, centered around whether the employer was legally justified in terminating these employees based on the collective agreement and established practices.

The employees, represented by their union, argued that the longstanding practice and contractual language indicated that employees on LTD should not be terminated for non-culpable reasons, regardless of the length of their absence.

They contended that this practice ensured continuous coverage under employer-paid health and welfare benefit plans. The union also accused the employer of acting unfairly by waiting until after a new collective agreement was in place before terminating the employees.

The employer, on the other hand, disputed the union’s interpretation of the agreement. They argued that the clauses in question did not restrict their right to terminate employment on non-culpable grounds and that there was no established practice indicating a different intent. The employer also denied allegations of deliberately delaying addressing the issue during contract negotiations.

Definition of ‘regular employee’

Key to the dispute were the contract clauses detailing insurance benefits and the definitions of “Regular Employee.” These clauses became the focus of the evidence presented, including testimonies from union representatives and the employer’s Director of Human Resources.

The union cited various legal precedents to support their claim, arguing that the contract language, combined with a consistent past practice of not terminating employees on LTD, clearly indicated a mutual intention to maintain benefit coverage for LTD recipients. They also raised an estoppel argument, suggesting that the employer, by its long-standing practice, had effectively made a commitment to continue this practice.

The employer’s counterarguments highlighted the absence of explicit language in the collective agreement restricting non-culpable dismissal and contested the existence of a meaningful past practice that would inform or modify the contract terms.

The arbitrator’s ruling

In the final analysis, the arbitrator ruled that while the collective agreement did not explicitly restrict the employer’s right to terminate employees on LTD, the employer was estopped from altering its long-standing practice until after the next round of collective agreement negotiations.

“The Grievors are ordered reinstated retroactively to the date they were dismissed and the collective agreement is to be applied accordingly; that status to remain until the next round of collective agreement negotiations is completed, which will determine their status from that point,” the arbitrator said.

“I also order that the Grievors otherwise be made whole including compensation for expenses they incurred but for the terminations.”

This decision was based on the established practice over the years and the union’s reliance on this practice, which precluded the employer from making unilateral changes.

The arbitrator retained jurisdiction over the remedy in case of disagreement between the parties.

For more information, see Trigon Pacific Terminals Ltd. v International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada, Local 523, 2023 CanLII 111663 (BC LA)

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