Teachers employed by Elk Island Public Schools (EIPS) have the right to receive paid sick leave when disabled, an arbitration panel ruled in January.
The decision relates to teachers who are disabled according to the terms of the Alberta School Employee Benefit Plan’s extended disability benefits (EDB) and working under accommodation and rehabilitation-to-work programs. It stems from an Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) policy grievance and an EIPS teacher’s personal grievance that date back to the fall of 2011. The grievances were presented during an arbitration hearing that took place over one day in September 2014 and three days in January 2015.
“Back in the fall of 2011, it came to light that disabled teachers who had returned to work under EDB accommodation and rehab-to-work programs were not being provided with any paid sick leave when they attended medical appointments or were away for reasons of illness,” said Lisa Everitt, an executive staff officer in the Association’s Teacher Welfare program area.
The Association did not agree that the school district’s practice was the correct way to apply the collective agreement between the Association and EIPS. Consequently, the Association formalized its concerns but also committed to continuing to discuss the issue with EIPS by offering to extend the grievance timelines, Everitt said. EIPS agreed that it was important to continue to discuss how the collective agreement should be interpreted for disabled teachers providing service to the board.
Ultimately, the parties could not reach an agreement and a policy grievance was launched, which led to a decision by an arbitration panel.
During this same period, a disabled EIPS teacher working in an accommodation program through EDB was preparing to retire at the end of the 2011/12 school year. When the teacher reviewed her pensionable service statement from the Alberta Teachers’ Retirement Fund, she found that some of her pensionable service was not reflected in the statement.
Consequently, the teacher contacted the ATA for advice and assistance. Further investigation revealed that EIPS had deducted salary when she accessed sick days over the 15 years she worked as a disabled teacher. As a result, the teacher had lost days of pensionable service over several years.
The teacher launched an individual grievance, which was attached to the ATA’s policy grievance and heard by the same arbitration panel.
“The position of the Association at arbitration was that teachers providing service to EIPS should be entitled to 90 calendar days of sick leave even if they could not return to their former FTE,” Everitt said. “However, if this was not the interpretation of the collective agreement the arbitration panel agreed with, then at minimum, EIPS should be providing the sick leave entitlement provided to all teachers by the School Act. ‘All teachers’ includes those teaching under EDB programs.”
In his ruling of Jan. 16, 2016, the chair of the arbitration panel did not support the Association’s position that the EIPS/ATA collective agreement provided for a further 90 calendar days of sick leave. But he did affirm that all teachers have access to a minimum level of sick leave even if a teacher is disabled. Ultimately, the arbitrator decided in favour of the Association and the EIPS teacher.
“The bottom line is that the legislature intended in s. 111 to provide a floor amount for sick days for all teachers if they provide teaching services on teaching days,” he wrote. “Those statutory sick days cannot be carved out on the basis that the teacher qualifies for a form of income replacement under a disability plan.”
This decision is an important one for all teachers in Alberta because it provides a basic guarantee of sick leave entitlement regardless of whether or not they are working while disabled, Everitt said. ❚