Employer changed requirements for time off without informing workers

Employees' leave wasn't approved, despite following the same procedure as previous approved requests

The Canadian Public Service Labour Relations Board has ruled a government department didn’t inform its employees of a change in paid leave policy after an employee was forced to use sick leave credits to go to a dental appointment during work hours despite not having to do so previously.

Sylvain Dubé, an employee for the Department of National Defence (DND) in Valcartier, Que., requested leave for a routine dental appointment on March 9, 2004. His supervisor denied the leave, saying the appointment should be made outside of working hours or Dubé would have to use sick leave credits to take the time off.

Dubé was surprised because he and his co-workers had been granted time off for dental appointments in the past and requiring appointments to be made outside of working hours hadn’t been raised before. The paid leave policy stated it was the DND’s practice to provide leave for medical or dental appointments for a specific problem or regular checkups, though the Civilian Personnel Administrative Order (CPAO) specified leave for appointments was at “management’s discretion” if the employee had already tried to schedule the appointment outside of working hours. The CPAO also stipulated absences of more than a half-day had to be covered by sick leave, vacation leave, unpaid leave or making up the time.

Another employee, Kevin Piton, recieved a similar response from management when he requested time off for a medical appointment. When he was denied, he and Dubé filed a grievance as neither was aware of the change.

“The employer had previously approved requests for leave of the same nature for (Dubé) and other employees,” the board said. “It would appear that the employer apparently decided, at some unspecified moment, to change or apply the CPAO requirements. Unfortunately, it did not notify its employees.”

The board found Dubé, Piton and other employees weren’t aware of the CPAO’s requirements for scheduling appointments because they hadn’t been informed of them. As far as they knew, previous practice and the regular policy were in effect. The board ordered the DND to reimburse the sick leave credits Dubé and Piton has been forced to use to cover their absences for the appointments.

“It is the employer’s responsibility to inform employees of the criteria it uses to assess requests for leave with pay for routine medical and dental checkups,” the board said. “The employer exercised its discretionary authority in an arbitrary manner.” See Dubé v. Canada (Treasury Board – Department of National Defence), 2007 CarswellNat 2510 (Can. Pub. Service Lab. Rel. Bd.).

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