CASE-NO : AH099
DATE : 03/02/77
PARTIES : CN CTU
CANADIAN NATIONAL RAILWAY TELECOMMUNICATIONS DEPT.
CANADIAN TELECOMMUNICATIONS UNION
Grievance of D. Geddes
Board of arbitration
Prof. H.W. Arthurs, Chairman
S.E. Dinsdale, Q.C.
For the Union
Martin Levinson, Counsel
R. Gay, General Chairman
For the Company
J.W. Healy, Q.C., Counsel
R.F. Finegan, Mgr., Employment relations
Toronto, February 3, 1977
The grievor, Mr. D.Geddes, protests the Company’s refusal to reimburse him for certain expenses for which he claimed following a seven-week training course in Montreal. The relevant language of article 12, clause 9, of the collective agreement provides:
....During the training period (employees on training courses) will be provided
hotel accomodation arranged by the Company or allowed, in lieu thereof, to
claim an amount equivalent to such cost for accomodation of their own choice
and will be reimbursed for other reasonable expenses.
The question confronting us, therefore, is whether Mr.Geddes’s expenses were reasonable within the meaning of article 12. At the threshold of our decision we wish to stress that the disputed items cast no discredit on Mr.Geddes. He is not accused of extravagance or misinterpretation in respect of these items. On the contrary, these expenses help to paint a picture of Mr.Geddes as a modest family man, and an honest person. But it does not automatically follow that he is entitled to reimbursement under the collective agreement.
The first item claimed by Mr.Geddes is 1.25$ for a city map. According to his undisputed testimony, he purchased the map in order to assist him in securing more suitable accomodation than that originally provided by the Company. Since the Company ultimately arranged alternative accomodation for him, it must be accepted that his decision to move was not improper - and indeed was contemplated by the collective agreement. Thus, the expenditure of 1.25$ for a map was a legitimate one implied in the process of moving to the new location.
However, the several other modest items claimed by Mr.Geddes cannot be treated on the same basis. These items, totalling under 20.00$, related to the purchase of magazines and newspapers and attendance at various recreational facilities.
Undoubtedly the grievor (as he put it) spent a "long, lonely, period of time" away from his family in Alberta. Undoubtedly he was deprived of his usual non-commercial family recreation. But it does not follow that the Company was obliged to provide solace or substitute recreation, however modest, as part of its contractual obligation to cover "reasonable expenses". If we were to order that Mr.Geddes be reimbursed for such expenses, we would be opening the door to an unending series of claims, each of which would presumably turn upon the personal tastes and family circumstances of the particular employee.
Those of modest tastes who have resort only to non-commercial recreation at home would be entitled to reimbursement if they could show that they had resort only to modest commercial substitutes. Those of extravagant tastes, who normally spend a great deal on entertainment at home, would be entitled to nothing while on the training course. And those who are between the two extremes would be entitled to recover part, but not all, of their recreational expenses. To evaluate any given claim the company would have to be given a verifiable account of the employee’s home life, and make an assessment as to whether the particular out-of-town substitutes selected were the most appropriate one available.
The very statement of what would be implied by acceptance of Mr.Geddes’ claim is sufficient explanation of why it is not "reasonable" within the meaning of the collective agreement. It would involve a degree of disclosure about the employee’s personal habits and an administrative burden of evaluation for the Company which would be tolerable to neither.
We further note that in regard to at least several (if not all) of the items, the grievor conceded that he would have made similar expenditures at home. This concession does not dispose of the issue, but rather underlines the impossibility of accepting the test of home circumstances as any part of the definition of "reasonable" under the agreement.
There is a final reason to define the term "reasonable expenses" in the collective agreement in such a way as to exclude Mr.Geddes’ claim. According to the uncontradicted evidence of the Company, there has been a practice extending about twenty-five years of not paying for items of the sort claimed. While concededly, this practice was the subject of only two (possibly three) recent grievances, none of which reached arbitration, it does indicate what the parties must have contemplated by the phrase "reasonable expenses".
Throughout this period, hundreds of employees have attended similar courses under similar circumstances without being reimbursed for similar items. Surely if the Union had believed that such reimbursement was appropriate within the meaning of the agreement, it would have made its views known to its members, and pressed their claims. Absent any such experience, there is at least a compelling inference that both parties acquiesced in the interpretation upon which the company now relies. This is not a case in which the employees would have been ignorant of the company’s position or in which the Union’s acquiescence rested upon error or ignorance. A practice relating to expense accounts is one which, we believe must have been notorious and well-understood.
Thus, we conclude that Mr.Geddes ought to be reimbursed to the extent of 1.25$ for the purchase of a city map, and that his grievance should otherwise be dismissed.
Mr.C.W.Pethick, union nominee dissents from this award
Toronto, Feb. 3, 1977