Employer obligated to maintain LTD

An Ontario home care company must continue the benefits of an employee on long-term disability (LTD) which were negotiated in its collective agreement with the employee’s union, according to an Ontario Arbitration Board ruling.

Patsy Lambert worked for the Home Care Department of Ottawa-Carleton and its successor, the Ottawa Community Care Access Centre (CCAC), from Sept. 4, 1984, to April 9, 1998. On that date, Lambert went on leave from stress and multiple sclerosis. She eventually went on LTD and the CCAC paid for her benefits coverage as stipulated in the collective agreement between CCAC and Lambert’s union, the Ottawa-Carleton Public Employees’ Union, Local 503.

Lambert remained completely disabled and unable to work in any capacity due to her condition. On Jan. 1, 1999, she began receiving disability pensions from three different sources.

Four years later, on May 9, 2003, CCAC sent Lambert a letter stating it was terminating her employment because of her absence from work since April 1998 and the disability pensions she was receiving indicated she was incapable of performing any duties related to her job. The termination would result in the cessation of her LTD benefits, which included extended health and dental coverage. Lambert disputed the termination, claiming it violated the Human Rights Code and the collective agreement, which includes an article promising to continue LTD benefits for “totally disabled employees” in her situation.

The arbitrator supported Lambert’s arguments. While the collective agreement does not prevent “innocent absenteeism discharge” to an employee completely absent from work, it does have a specific provision that deals with permanently disabled employees.

“The language is clear; there is an obligation on the part of the employer to continue benefits of a disabled employee who is on LTD,” the arbitrator said. “(Lambert) is on LTD and the bargain struck between the parties is express and evident.”

For more information see:

Ottawa-Carleton Public Employees’ Union, Local 503 v. Ottawa Community Care Access Centre, 2006 CarswellOnt 8623 (Ont. Arb. Bd.).

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