Arbitrator Overturns Termination for “Excessive” Absenteeism

In a recent victory for CUPE Local 109, Jessica Greenwood provided representation to an employee whose rights under the collective agreement and the Human Rights Code were violated due to an unfair termination of her employment.

In the July 29, 2019 decision, Arbitrator Eli A. Gedalof affirmed that an employer cannot rely on a pattern of innocent absenteeism to establish frustration of contract when the absences are due to exceptional events, the employee has demonstrated a substantial improvement in attendance, and there is objective evidence that the employee will be successful in maintaining regular attendance moving forward. The decision also affirms the employer’s obligation under the Human Rights Code to accommodate an employee’s disability to the degree of undue hardship.

The Union successfully argued that the City relied on an improper and discriminatory application of their Attendance Management Program (AMP) to the Grievor’s case.  This application of the AMP program served to hide the fact that the Grievor’s attendance had improved dramatically and was continuing to improve.

Arbitrator Gedalof ruled that the City had not met its burden under the first part of the test, by failing to establish repetitive and consistent absenteeism triggering the decision to terminate. Arbitrator Gedalof noted “far from demonstrating an escalating pattern of absence in 2018 leading up to her termination, the grievor demonstrated the opposite…. what precipitated the grievor’s termination was a single day of absence following an extended period of acceptable attendance. The grievor’s attendance in 2018 reflected a substantial improvement over an extended period of time, and effectively disrupted the pattern of absences in 2017”.

Even if the employer had met the first part of the test, the Arbitrator concluded that frustration of the employment contract would still not be established on the facts. The Union had satisfied the second part of the test, which places a burden on the grievor to present objective evidence demonstrating good reason to believe that any issues that contributed to the excessive absences have been addressed and the grievor will be able to provide regular and consistent attendance in the immediate and foreseeable future. Arbitrator Gedalof noted, “The most straightforward objective evidence of the grievor’s ability to attend work is that at the time of her termination, she had in fact been attending work regularly for an extended period of time.”

As a result, despite finding that the City had applied the AMP program absent bad faith, the City’s “decision to terminate the grievor without just cause, in the absence of frustration and due to attendance issues related to their medical condition, nonetheless violated the Collective Agreement and (s.5 of) the Human Rights Code”.

The Grievor was awarded re-instatement, with no loss of service or seniority, compensation for lost wages and benefits since the termination, and damages for the breach of the Code.

RavenLaw congratulates the Grievor and CUPE Local 109 for another successful defence of employee rights!