IN THE MATTER OF AN ARBITRATION
CANADIAN PACIFIC RAILWAY
CAW LOCAL 101
(Chris Clarke Grievance)
ARBITRATOR: Vincent L. Ready
COUNSEL: John H. Bate for
Brian McDonagh and
Vinod Gill for
HEARING: May 13 and 14, 2003
PUBLISHED: July 9, 2003
The parties agreed I was properly constituted with jurisdiction under their Collective Agreement to hear and determine the matter in dispute.
The issue relates to the grievance of Machinist Chris Clarke, who was employed at the Coquitlam Locomotive Facility when he injured his back. The grievance relates to the parties’ efforts to accommodate his return to employment.
Prior to his injury, the grievor’s primary duties involved the inspection, repair and maintenance of locomotives and related locomotive components. This work is physical in nature and the specific tasks vary depending on the type of maintenance required on any given day.
The grievor sustained a back injury in September, 1995. In 1996, he underwent surgery and suffered infection in his back that required two more surgeries, leaving him with chronic pain and a weakened back. In November, 1998, the grievor participated in a job assessment upon the recommendation of the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB). Following the assessment, the Local Joint Disability Management (DM) Committee decided on an accommodation for the grievor that included “job bundling” and “flex hours”. The Employer believes that this accommodation plan was temporary in nature and was agreed on the premise that the grievor would, over time, increase his hours of work and productivity.
In June of 1999 and again in September of 1999 follow-up meetings were conducted in the workplace with the employee and local representatives to review the accommodation plan, evaluate any concerns, and revisit the hours of work. At both of those meetings it was agreed that the accommodation of the grievor had been successful.
In March of 2000, the WCB advised that the grievor had undergone a Functional Capacity Evaluation (FCE) and was capable of sedentary and limited light work on a part-time basis. The Employer was also made aware that the grievor had been awarded a disability pension from the Board equivalent to a 9.8% permanent partial disability.
On May 29, 2000, the grievor experienced an aggravation of his previous medical condition and, as a result, was off work and received Workers’ Compensation benefits.
The grievor sought to return to his former accommodation; however, Randy Congdon, the Service Area Manager for the Employer for British Columbia took the position that returning the grievor to employment on that basis would amount to the creation of a job for Mr. Clarke, which the Company did not have an obligation to do.
On June 15, 2001, the grievor’s condition was re-assessed by the Employee Health Advisor, Jacqui Bartkiewicz. The recommendations arising from this assessment were similar to those previously identified in a “Return To Work” (RTW) Form dated May 16, 2001, as follows:
- No repetitive bending
- No overhead work
- No lifting over 10-15 lbs.
- No prolonged sitting (more than ½ hour)
- To work 3-4 hours a day, 2-3 days a week only.
The RTW Form states that the grievor could return to work as of May 22, 2001.
On July 13, 2001 a conference call took place that included a local Union representative and management representatives to discuss and review an accommodation plan for the grievor. During that call, the Employer maintained the position that the grievor could not be accommodated based on the permanent nature of his physical limitation, the requirement that any work be sedentary in nature, the limited and unpredictable hours of work the grievor could handle, changes in the nature of the work under his previous accommodation, and the fact that those duties were outside the core duties of his former job.
In April of 2002, through the disclosure process in developing a WCB appeal, the Employer discovered that the Workers’ Compensation Board had conducted video surveillance of the grievor’s off-duty activities. As a result of the surveillance the WCB had determined that the grievor was physically capable of doing more than what the medical information had previously indicated. On October 24, 2002, the Workers’ Compensation Review Board issued an appeal award in regard to the grievor’s disability, maintaining the award of a 9.8% permanent partial disability.
On January 30-31, 2003 Mr. Clarke underwent yet another Functional Capacity Evaluation, which concluded he could perform work as follows:
No Static stand more than 15 minutes, sit more than 10 min.
Reach above head 2 minutes.
Push 25 lbs. pull 30 lbs., lift 10-15 lbs.
Able to climb 25 stairs 4 times.
Sedentary to light work.
3 hours/3days/week work.
On February 24, 2003 the Company’s Occupational Health Advisor, made the following recommendations with respect the grievor’s return to work:
This employee is fit to return to modified work.
Able to walk for periods of time.
No lifting/carrying over 10-15 lbs.
Requires frequent position changes.
Unable to sit longer than 10 minutes (then requires position change).
Unable to static stand longer than 15 minutes (then requires position change).
Unable to bend forward or backward.
No crouching or squatting for repetitive/or continuous periods.
Recommend: Graduated return to work:
3 hours/day 3 days a week and slowly increasing hours as tolerated (possibly working up to full hours/3 days per week).
In light of this latest report, the Employer and Union have been in discussions regarding a proposed accommodation plan for the grievor based on a permanent part-time position. The Employer has advised that the grievor requires approval from his physician to revise his restrictions on hours of work from three hours per day, three days per week to a minimum of two hours per day, five days per week before the accommodation in question can be finalized.
Rule 17 of the Collective Agreement sets out the process the parties have agreed to follow in their efforts to find accommodation for employees:
17.1 The Company agrees to make every reasonable effort to provide suitable modified or alternate employment to employees who are temporarily or permanently unable to return to their regular duties, as a consequence of an occupational or non-occupational disability.
17.2 Cases of this nature will be reviewed on an individual basis by the Company and the Union, taking into consideration the needs of the business and the necessity to provide work assignments which will make a positive productive contribution to the Company's operation. By mutual agreement between the parties, provisions of this agreement may be amended or waived by letter of understanding to meet the needs of the disabled employee concerned and to modify the duties of a particular position.
17.3 Modified or alternate duties encompass any job, task, function or combination of tasks or functions that an employee who suffers from diminished capacity, temporarily or permanently, may perform safely.
17.4 In consideration of accommodating a disabled employee the following shall apply in the order listed below:
First, the disabled employee's present position shall be considered for modification,
Second, positions within the disabled employee's classification shall be considered,
Third, positions within the bargaining unit shall be considered,
Fourth, positions outside the bargaining unit shall be considered,
17.5 Any alteration in seniority shall only be considered as a final resort after all other avenues have been duly considered by both parties. In situations involving lay-off or recalls from lay-off, the provisions of Rule 23 will have priority over any special arrangements that may have been established to accommodate disabled employees.
17.6 It shall be the responsibility of the Facility Manager and the duly authorized representative of the Union, or their designates, to jointly investigate and find means to accommodate disabled employees.
POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES
The Union takes the position that there was no reason for Machinist Chris Clarke to be denied accommodation after May 16, 2001. The Union argues that there were no barriers to bring the grievor back to his previous accommodation under the same restrictions as in the past, under Rule 17, for as many hours as he is able to achieve.
The Union submits that the evidence presented shows that the grievor was being accommodated in regard to his disability for a period of at least one year. It is also evident, in the submission of the Union, that the grievor suffered a re-injury of his original work related injury and that by May, 2001 had returned to the same state of capabilities as prior to the re-injury. At that point he should have returned to the duties he was performing prior to the May, 2000 accident, argues the Union.
The Union further contends that the Employer made its decision to not allow the grievor to return to his prior accommodation without consulting the Local Joint DM Committee or the Employee Health Advisor, Ms. Bartkiewicz. The Union points out that the Company’s Occupational Health Advisor is of the opinion that the grievor is fit to return to duty. In her recommendations she states, “This employee is fit to return to modified work....”
The Union takes the position that the Employer has acted contrary to the intent of Rule 17 of the Collective Agreement and has discriminated against the grievor contrary to the Canada Human Rights Act by continuing to hold him from service because of his disability.
The Canada Human Rights Act recognizes disability as a “prohibited ground of discrimination” and states:
7. It is a discriminatory practice, directly or indirectly,
(a) to refuse to employ or continue to employ any individual, or
(b) in the course of employment, to differentiate adversely in relation to an employee, on a prohibited ground of discrimination.
In the Union’s submission, Rule 17 and the Canada Human Rights Act combine to require that the Employer take all steps short of undue hardship to eliminate any discrimination related to the human rights grounds.
It is the position of the Employer that all reasonable avenues have been explored regarding the accommodation of the grievor. Therefore, the Employer argues that it has in fact met its contractual obligations under Rule 17 and has not ignored its obligation in respect to the Canada Human Rights Act. As a result, the Employer contends that no discrimination has in fact occurred.
The Employer argues that it examines each accommodation on a case-by-case basis and considers the specific circumstances of each case. The Employer has a Company policy related to the duty to accommodate and, in addition, both parties have been proactive in dealing with accommodation by finding practical solutions to ensuring employees have the opportunity to maintain viable employment with CP Rail.
The Employer takes the position that an accommodation of the grievor is not reasonable given his physical limitations and restrictions. Specifically, the Employer points to the fact that he is unable to perform the essential tasks of the position he was hired to do; that his restrictions are permanent, with no indication that they will change or improve in the future; that he can only work part-time hours; and that there is no predictability that he can sustain consistency in the number of hours he can work per day, or per week. As a result, the Employer contends that, in order to provide an accommodation, it would have to create a part-time position for the grievor which is not part of his core duties. The Employer relies on the following passage from Brown and Beatty, Canadian Labor Arbitration, (¶7:6120) to support its contention that the duty to accommodate does not extend to require it to “create” such a position for the grievor:
Even though the employer’s duty to accommodate disabled employees is stricter and more rigorous in Canada than in the United States, it is not so demanding that it is impossible to meet. All arbitrators agree that even though employers cannot expect disabled employees to be able to do every aspect of a job, they have a right to insist that all employees be able to perform on a regular basis, the essential, core functions of their positions.
Workplaces do not have to be totally reorganized, and while it is not uncommon for employers to be told they must sometimes collect a bundle of tasks that a disabled employee is capable of performing, some arbitrators have shied away from imposing such an obligation where it entails creating a whole new position, and none will do so where the job is just make work. The test applied by most arbitrators is whether the job that a disabled employee claims the right to perform is “useful and productive for the employer”.
Whether an arbitrator concludes that the point has been reached when retaining a disabled employee, even on a leave of absence, constitutes undue hardship invariably depends on the facts of each case. Although there have been numerous awards in which arbitrators have ruled that an employer has not done everything it was reasonably expected to do, there are just as many that have found employers have lived up to their legal obligations.
In summary, the Employer says that it has demonstrated every reasonable effort to accommodate the grievor and the undue hardship threshold has been reached. Specifically, the Employer argues that the financial cost to the business to accommodate an employee with unpredictable hours of work - three hours a day, 3 days per week - with little or no physical contribution to the core functions of the business constitutes undue hardship. However, the Employer also states that it has not abandoned the examination of other possibilities to provide accommodation for the grievor, including retraining, skill development and examining other positions within and outside of the railway.
The Supreme Court decision in Meiorin (1999) outlined the current state of the law with respect to the duty to accommodate. That decision states at para. 68:
Employers designing workplace standards owe an obligation to be aware of both the differences between individuals, and differences that characterize groups of individuals. They must build conceptions of equality into workplace standards. By enacting human rights statutes and providing that they are applicable to the workplace, the legislatures have determined that the standards governing the performance of work should be designed to reflect all members of society, in so far as this is reasonably possible. The standard itself is required to provide for individual accommodation, if reasonably possible.
Under Rule 17, the parties have essentially incorporated the duty to accommodate in their Collective Agreement by requiring the Company “to make every reasonable effort to provide suitable modified or alternate employment to employees who are temporarily or permanently unable to return to their regular duties”.
The Meiorin decision, supra, highlights a three-step test to be used by adjudicators to determine cases of accommodation. These questions can be restated as follows:
- Has the employer adopted standards that discriminate against an individual for a purpose rationally connected to the performance of the job?
- Has the employer adopted the particular standard in an honest and good faith belief that it was necessary to fulfill a legitimate work-related purpose?
- Is the standard reasonably necessary to the accomplishment of that legitimate work-related purpose, which includes demonstrating that it is impossible to accommodate individual employees without imposing undue hardship upon the Employer?
In this case, I do not question the Employer regarding the first two points above. On the third point, the Employer has relied on a number of factors to support its contention that the grievor could not be accommodated without undue hardship. With respect, some of the arguments made by the Employer are not, on their face, enough to relieve the Employer from the duty to accommodate.
Specifically, throughout its arguments, the Employer has raised the issue of the permanence of the grievor’s physical restrictions and limitation. The fact that an accommodation may be permanent, in and of itself, does not constitute undue hardship on the Employer. Second, the Employer has repeatedly argued that the limited number of hours of work the grievor can perform constitutes undue hardship. However, the Employer has not presented any evidence that part-time work is necessarily inefficient or unproductive. To the contrary, the evidence suggests that the Employer quite regularly accommodates individuals, including the grievor, through flexible and modified work hours.
Further, the wording of Rule 17 contemplates specifically that the parties will consider modification of duties for both temporary and permanent disabilities. This, as I have said, is consistent with the obligations under Human Rights legislation.
Finally, from the evidence and arguments, it appears that the Employer and Union are close to agreement on an accommodation for the grievor. If such an accommodation can be finalized by the parties, that is obviously the best result for the grievor and the Employer. As such, I order the parties to finalize an accommodation for the grievor based on their most recent discussions and return him to employment as quickly as possible.
The Union has asked for compensation for the grievor for his losses from May 22, 2001, the point at which he was assessed as able to return to employment. From the evidence, it appears that the grievor’s physical restrictions and limitations have not substantially changed between then and now. As such, if the accommodation currently being discussed, or a similar accommodation, would have been available at that time or any time between then and now, the grievor should be compensated for his loss of employment from that date until such time as he is returned to employment.
I will remain seized of the matter in order to resolve any dispute as to the implementation of this Award.
It is so awarded.
Dated at the City of Vancouver in the Province of British Columbia this 9th day of July, 2003.
Vincent L. Ready
Vincent L. Ready