Advance notice requirement for change in hours not applicable to temporary shutdown: Board

Employees claimed agency changed their work hours by sending them home when equipment malfunctioned

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) did not violate its collective agreement when it sent employees home without pay after an equipment shutdown, the Canadian Public Service Labour Relations Board has ruled.

The CRA hired several employees in 2003 to process income tax returns in Shawinigan, Que. The hours of work for the employees were set at 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. or 7:15 a.m. to 3:15 p.m, Monday to Friday.

On Oct. 27, 2003, at the beginning of the workday, the computerized processing system broke down. The CRA assigned alternative duties to some employees, but it didn’t have enough for everyone so it placed some off-duty for the rest of the day. The employees were paid for the time they were at work and allowed to use lieu time, unpaid leave or annual leave for the rest of the day. The problem was fixed and the employees were able to return the following day.

The employees who were sent home claimed the collective agreement stipulated they had to be informed by written notice of a change to their scheduled hours of work at least seven days in advance. They said putting them on off-duty status was a change to their scheduled hours of work. They asked for the off-duty status to be declared invalid and to be paid for the balance of that day.

The board noted the Canada Revenue Agency Act gave CRA authority over matters of human resource management, “including the terms and conditions of employment.” The collective agreement also stipulated there was no guarantee of minimum or maximum hours of work and it only prohibited the CRA from reducing the hours of work permanently. Since the off-duty status was a temporary arrangement and didn’t actually change the scheduled hours, the CRA didn’t have to provide the seven-day notice, the board found.

“If the employer does not intend to change the scheduled hours of work, but an inopportune incident beyond its control lasting for a few hours requires it to change the scheduled hours of work temporarily, in my opinion it is impossible to give the seven days’ notice, and thus the collective agreement is not applicable,” the board said. See Cloutier v. Canada (Revenue Agency), 2009 CarswellNat 205 (Can. P.S.L.R.B.).

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