Home Arbitration/Labour Relations Alberta arbitrator rules in favour of virtual hearing for Northern Lakes Regional College grievance

Alberta arbitrator rules in favour of virtual hearing for Northern Lakes Regional College grievance

by HR Law Canada

An arbitrator in Alberta has ruled that a grievance between Northern Lakes Regional College and the Faculty Association will proceed virtually rather than in-person.

The decision was based on considerations of cost, convenience, and the preferences of the involved parties.

The dispute originated from an allegation by the Faculty Association that the College increased the workload of T.M., a high school upgrading instructor at the Stony Point campus, without proper consultation as mandated by their Collective Agreement. The College preferred an in-person hearing in Edmonton, while the Faculty Association and Murphy advocated for a virtual format.

Key factors in the decision

The arbitrator highlighted the evolution of virtual hearings since the COVID-19 pandemic, noting their proven effectiveness and the lack of a presumptive norm favoring in-person hearings. He emphasized that virtual hearings no longer represent a secondary option compared to in-person adjudications.

“Virtual hearings have become so common over the last four years that there is no longer a presumption for in-person arbitration hearings,” the arbitrator said, referencing the recent practices observed in other arbitration cases.

Weighing the preferences and practicalities

The arbitrator detailed several factors influencing his decision:

  1. Preference of the Parties: While the College preferred an in-person hearing in Edmonton for convenience, the Faculty Association and Murphy cited significant personal and logistical challenges, including caregiving responsibilities and widespread geographic dispersion of participants. The arbitrator placed significant weight on T.M.’s preference, as his rights and interests were primarily at stake.
  2. Cost and Time Considerations: The virtual hearing was deemed more cost-effective, avoiding travel and accommodation expenses associated with an in-person hearing. The virtual format also minimized disruption to the participants’ professional and personal lives.
  3. Technological Capability: Although there were concerns about the Labour Relations Officer’s internet reliability, the arbitrator directed the Faculty Association to ensure that connectivity issues were addressed, either by enhancing the connection or finding a more reliable location for her participation.
  4. Nature of Evidence: The arbitration was expected to involve a significant volume of documents. The arbitrator noted that virtual hearings could effectively manage document-intensive cases with proper preparation, such as the use of bookmarked PDFs.

Conclusion and directions

Ultimately, the arbitrator ruled in favor of a virtual hearing, concluding that it was the most practical and least disruptive option. He instructed the Faculty Association to work on ensuring reliable internet connectivity for all participants and directed both parties to prepare and share a comprehensive book of documents in advance.

Key takeaways

  1. Virtual Hearings as a Norm: The ruling underscores that virtual hearings are now considered an equally valid option as in-person hearings, reflecting a significant shift in legal practice post-pandemic.
  2. Significance of Participant Preferences: The decision highlights the importance of considering the preferences and practical circumstances of all parties involved, particularly the grievor’s rights and interests.
  3. Preparation and Technological Readiness: Ensuring reliable technology and thorough preparation of documents are crucial for the smooth conduct of virtual hearings, emphasizing the need for meticulous planning in such formats.

For more information, see Northern Lakes Regional College v Faculty Association of Northern Lakes Regional College, 2024 CanLII 42577 (AB GAA).

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