Employers can count sick leave credits as paid medical leave days under CLC: arbitrator

Decision highlights importance of 'more favourable' benefits

Employers can count sick leave credits as paid medical leave days under CLC: arbitrator

Federal employers can count employees’ sick leave credits as paid medical leave days under the Canada Labour Code (CLC) if their own program provides “a more favourable benefit” to workers, according to an arbitrator’s ruling.

In United Steelworkers Local 14193 v. Cameco Fuel Manufacturing Inc., 2023, the union filed a grievance against the employer for its practice of counting paid medical leave days required under CLC as part of its own short-term disability benefits plan (STD Plan).

USW argued that the CLC medical leave entitlement serves a different purpose from that of the STD Plan. Therefore, Cameco could not offset CLC Paid Medical Leave Days with days that are indemnified under the STD Plan.

The employer’s deduction deprived employees of their statutory rights, according to Rhonda Levy, knowledge management counsel, and Adrian Jakibchuk, partner, in a blog from their law firm Littler Mendelson.

“The USW argued in the alternative that if CLC Paid Medical Leave Days and the STD Plan serve the same purpose, the CLC Paid Medical Leave Days ‘are a more favourable benefit and so the employees receive the benefit of both’,” they explained.

CLC leave credits versus STD rules

Under Bill C-19, federal employees with 30 days of continuous service can earn three paid medical leave days annually, with the possibility to accrue up to ten, noted BNN. The legislation received royal assent on June 23, 2022, and took effect Dec. 1, 2022.

Under the legislation, employees can also accrue one additional such day per month, up to a maximum of 10 CLC Paid Medical Leave Days in a calendar year, noted Levy, along with Littler partners Barry Kuretzky and George Vassos.

Cameco, meanwhile, in early 2023, started counting sick days paid at 100% of weekly earnings under the STD plan as CLC Paid Medical Leave Days.

Arbitrator’s decision: Cameco's leave plan for workers is better

In his decision, detailed in the Littler blog, Arbitrator Jesse Nyman noted: 

“First, when comparing the statutory benefit to the allegedly more favourable benefit, one must consider the purpose of the statutory benefit. Second, a determination must be made whether the allegedly more favourable benefit serves the same purpose as the statutory provision. If it does, and it is found indeed to be more favourable than the statutory benefit, then it prevails vis-à-vis the statutory counterpart. Otherwise, the employee is entitled to claim the minimum standard under the Code.”

Nyman found that what Cameco offers is better than what the CLC requires.

“Ultimately, when considered as a whole, [the employer’s] practice of allowing employees to utilize [CLC Paid Medical Leave Days] for which they otherwise qualify and have available along with the STD Plan provides a more favourable benefit than [CLC Paid Medical Leave Days] alone, even though [the employer] deducts an entitlement to a [CLC Paid Medical Leave Day] for each day an employee receives 100% wage indemnity under the STD Plan,” he said in his decision.

Arriving at the decision, the arbitrator dismissed USW’s grievance case.

Nyman’s decision will be of interest to federal employers, “as they consider the interaction between CLC Paid Medical Leave Days and other benefits to which their employees may be entitled, whether they be under a collective agreement, a benefits plan or otherwise,” noted Levy and Jakibchuk.

“His award confirms that it may indeed be possible for employers to simultaneously count existing paid leave days under a collective agreement as CLC Paid Medical Leave Days. As Arbitrator Nyman’s Award makes clear, whether that is the case, however, will depend on the totality of the benefits provided.”

In November 2023, promised new legislation that would allow workers with serious diseases, such as cancer, to take job-protected leaves. The government promised to match federal EI sickness benefits, which sit at 26 weeks.

Recent articles & video

Canada expanding early pension eligibility for front-line workers

Woodfibre found in noncompliance, ordered to deploy 'floatel' for Squamish LNG project

Discrimination? Worker claims employer did not accommodate his disability

What are the costliest cities for international workers?

Most Read Articles

Revealed! Best Places to Work in Canada 2024 - HRD Canada's Top Picks

LCBO workers vote overwhelmingly in favour of strike

B.C. expands Workers Compensation Act mental-health presumption to more workers