Union wins grievance over grad ceremony back pay

Coquitlam district pays parent to attend daughter’s SFU grad ceremony

Parents across School District 43 are scrambling to attend graduation ceremonies, pre-school grads and other year end events for their children.

Beyond the flowers, pomp and ceremony, how do working parents find the time in a regular work day to meet all these obligations?

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For one SD43 employee, the issue went as far as a workplace grievance, with a labour relations arbitrator ordering the employer to pay back the 2.5 hours for a leave of absence she took to attend her daughter’s day-time graduation ceremony at Simon Fraser University.

The case shows how important it is for employees and employers to be clear on language in a union contract and how important workplace benefits can be to fulfilling one’s duties as a parent.

In the May 22 decision, the continuing education staff member was upset that she was only paid 5.5 hours to attend her daughter’s grad last October, when her regular work day lasts eight hours, and the event took most of the day.

When questioned, the worker, a CUPE member, said she attended the ceremony which ended at 1 p.m., and then a reception followed by family photos.

Her manager paid her for the time she spent at the ceremony and gave her an hour’s travel time, for a total of 5.5 hours paid leave. But the remaining 2.5 hours leave were without pay.

For arbitrator Gabriel Somjen, it appeared that, at first glance, both the employee and the employer had a case.

Adjudicating the decision required more research.

Somjen subsequently looked into the bargaining history between SD43 and CUPE 561, going as far as looking at bargaining notes dating back to 1992.

It appeared the union’s intention was to obtain language providing workers with one full day’s paid leave to attend a child’s graduation but the employer wanted the words “up to” in a counter proposal. 

Taking SD43’s bargaining notes into consideration, Somjen found that SD43 ultimately obtained the language change allowing paid leave “up to” a day to attend a child’s graduation.

But the issue didn’t end there.

The union made a second argument, based on estoppel, in which the employer’s previous “generous” allowance of leave for a ceremony gave rise to employee’s expectations of a full day’s pay.

Over the years the generous application of paid leave for a daytime graduation ceremony was allowed and this was the first time the union learned of the more stringent interpretation — and then, not until after the ceremony.

In the end, the union won the grievance, and 2.5 hours back pay for the employee.

SD43 was also told it would have to apply the generous interpretation of paid leave until the current contract expires — in three weeks.

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