An Ontario arbitrator recently determined that an employer’s requirement that employees attend counseling meetings pursuant to an attendance management policy was not grievable.

The Employer had initiated an attendance management program that differentiated between culpable and non-culpable absenteeism. Non-culpable absences were addressed through non-disciplinary counseling sessions. After four non-disciplinary counselling sessions, the program called for a case review, which involved an evaluation of the employee’s attendance history and an assessment as to whether the employee would be able to attend work regularly in the future. If the assessment was not favourable, termination was a potential outcome.

The Union grieved the requirement that employees attend counselling sessions, arguing that each session pushed those employees closer to the review stage and the potential termination of their employment. The Arbitrator rejected this argument, noting that employers have the right to speak to an employee at any time about their work performance, absenteeism or any other work related matter. Further, there was no accusation or implication in the requirement to attend the counselling session that the absence was not legitimate or that the employee was doing anything wrong.

This decision confirms that employers have the right to address attendance issues with employees, including in circumstances where the absence is innocent or related to a disability. However, employers need to be cautious about approaching such absences in a punitive manner.

A link to the decision can be found here.