Canada Post not obligated to provide sunglasses to couriers and letter carriers

An arbitrator has rejected a claim by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers that Canada Post must provide its outside workers with non-prescription sunglasses

The issue arose in 1992, when the union recommended Canada Post provide outside workers with sunscreen, wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses to minimize the exposure letter carriers and mail service couriers get to bright sunlight.

A year later the employer provided sunscreen and hats, at its own expense, as part of the uniform allotment. It was never made mandatory that workers should use it, but Canada Post encouraged them to do so and also to wear sunglasses.

In 2003 the union filed a grievance against Canada Post. It claimed that under the Canada Labour Code, and also under the provisions of the collective agreement between them, that the employer is obliged to provide the sunglasses to outside workers.

The arbitrator expressed frustration that years after the dispute surfaced the case had “involved 12 days of hearings that extended over nearly two years, as the parties battled through their experts and counsel over every detail.”

The hearings examined relevant discussions between Canada Post and the union in the intervening years, the effects of direct sunlight on people (particularly the effects of solar radiation on the eyes), what the scientific evidence was on the issue and how much “time in the sun” per day letter carriers and couriers spend.

Ultimately the arbitrator concluded sunglasses are not an item of personal protective equipment that the employer is obligated to provide. It made the decision on the basis that letter carriers spend about half their working day outdoors, and couriers are substantially sheltered from the sun’s UV rays by their vehicles. There is no scientific evidence that the level of exposure carriers and couriers are exposed to causes damage. Canada Post’s not providing sunglasses does not, therefore, constitute a breach of the code or the collective agreement, it ruled.

For more information see:

C.U.P.W. v. Canada Post Corp., 2006 CarswellNat 3618 (Can. Arb. Bd.).

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