An Ontario arbitrator has ruled that old language in a collective agreement was not clear enough and the employer is obligated to provide benefits to employees past 65, notwithstanding the age limitation in the benefits contracts.
The case highlights the need to review employment and collective agreement language now that mandatory retirement has been outlawed.
Like many collective agreements (and individual employment agreements), the employer promised to provide benefits but referred to the actual policy for the full terms and conditions, including limitations on age. Such limitations are allowed under human rights law in Ontario (and in British Columbia) in the right circumstances. But the arbitrator ruled that the collective agreement reference to the policy, which the parties knew had the age limitation, was not good enough. Instead, she ruled that there had to be clear and unambiguous language in the collective agreement itself.
The arbitrator’s interpretation of the collective agreement is astonishing, and probably wrong. But that is cold comfort as long as the decision stands and may influence future cases.
As we have been advising employers since the end of mandatory retirement – review all your employment agreements, collective agreements, policies, benefits pamplets, and the like, to ensure that all limitations regarding age are clearly stated and can be justified as part of a bona fide group or employee insurance plan.
See: Municipality of Strathroy-Caradoc Police Services Board (2012), 216 L.A.C. (4th) 199 (Cummings)