Moving ill mother doesn’t qualify as compassionate care leave: Arbitrator

Collective agreement stipulated compassionate care leave had to involve a life threatening illness

A British Columbia employee who took time off to move her mother into an extended care facility is not entitled to paid compassionate care leave, the B.C. Arbitration Board has ruled.

Leta Luchsinger was a library assistant for the Vancouver Island Regional Library in Courtenay, B.C. In spring 2007, Luchsinger’s mother, who had Alzheimer’s disease, was in the hospital waiting for a place in an extended care facility. She had been waiting for 15 months and knew when a spot opened up, the move had to happen quickly or they would lose it. As a result, she had informed her branch manager that she could get a call at any time and would need to leave work on short notice when it happened.

On April 16, 2007, Luchsinger received a call from a facility. She was told she had to move her mother into the facility the next morning or the spot would go to someone else. Luchsinger wrote a quick note asking for compassionate leave under the collective agreement and left.

The branch manager didn’t think the day off qualified as compassionate care leave because the collective agreement specified it had to be for a “life- threatening or seriously life-threatening” illness. The library’s HR department agreed and Luchsinger was told her claim was denied because “your mother did not die.” She was also told she couldn’t use a vacation day or banked overtime because those required more advance notice. The only option left was unpaid leave.

Luchsinger resubmitted her application for compassionate care leave, saying Alzheimer’s was a serious life- threatening illness, even if it “does not kill swiftly.” She also said she had to help with the move because her father had congestive heart disease and would likely die from the stress of her mother not moving to the facility.

The arbitrator found there had been no sudden deterioration in Luchsinger’s mother’s condition at the time of the move and she didn’t use any medical assistance. He also found the branch manager had recommended she take a sick day, but Luchsinger insisted on applying for compassionate care leave. The difference was between the library granting Luchsinger a day to move her mother and Luchsinger wanting to be paid for the day.

The arbitrator also found the collective agreement defined paid compassionate leave as for life-threatening illnesses and there were other forms of leave and benefit banks available, which the library recommended.

The arbitrator ruled the move of Luchsinger’s mother did not fall within the definition of serious illness in the collective agreement, as it was neither life-threatening nor potentially life- threatening and was not entitled to compassionate care leave. However, he ruled she should be entitled to use another form of paid leave available to her — such as vacation time, overtime bank or sick leave — rather than taking an unpaid day off. See Vancouver Island Regional Library v. C.U.P.E., Local 401, 2010 CarswellBC 2194 (B.C. Arb. Bd.).

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