CHARLOTTETOWN – In what might be a moral victory for every Canadian who ever had to go to work in bad weather, a P.E.I. man has won a five-year battle to get 3.5 hours worth of pay after being unable to get to the office.
A labour panel granted Leslie Smith leave pay for time missed during a snowstorm, agreeing that the evidence showed roads were not safe for travel.
“It would not have been wise for him to endanger his life or physical health by driving in very difficult road conditions from his home to his workplace, which was an hour away,” adjudicator
Nathalie Daigle said in a decision from a panel of the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board.
“Based on the evidence, I am satisfied (he) made reasonable efforts to get to work and that the snowstorm prevented him from travelling to his workplace.”
Smith filed a grievance against the Canada Revenue Agency after it refused to provide paid leave for the hours he was not at the Tax Services Office in Charlottetown on Dec. 4, 2013.
The panel ruling said the office remained open in the morning, but closed at 1 p.m. due to inclement weather.
It said Smith was living in Summerside, about an hour from the office, and left home around 7 a.m.
He spent about 25 minutes on unplowed roads before deciding to return home after seeing a four-wheel-drive truck in a ditch.
Smith again attempted to drive to work around 11:30 a.m. after seeing a snowplow on his street and clearing his driveway, but after driving around Summerside, he decided the road conditions remained unsafe.
The CRA agreed to four hours of paid leave because of the early closure, and one hour for Smith’s efforts to get to work, but refused to pay him the remaining 3.5 hours as paid leave, under a clause he cited in the collective agreement.
The clause said the employer may grant leave pay “when circumstances not directly attributable to the employee prevent his or her reporting for duty; such leave shall not be unreasonably withheld.”
The panel ruled that Smith established that circumstances beyond his control prevented him from coming to work, and that it was reasonable to grant him leave under that clause of the collective agreement.
“Based on the evidence on the record, I find that road conditions were poor and unsafe in Summerside and Charlottetown on December 4, 2013,” the decision said. “The local newspaper reported that a snowstorm had hit the area. In addition, a list of businesses and government offices closed on that day in Summerside and Charlottetown was provided to the board. It shows that many offices opened late and that some remained closed all day.”
Smith had been granted sick leave for the time he was not at work, and so the employer has been ordered to credit the sick leave balance by 3.5 hours and grant leave for those hours.
The panel also noted that it’s not clear on what basis the employer believed Smith did not make a sufficient effort to get to work.
“I understand that employees may be absent due to a snowstorm and that the employer may not want to take every employee’s word for it that he or she was unable to report to duty because of the storm,” the ruling said. “The employer pointed out that (Smith)did not call the Summerside Tax Centre to see if he could work there that day. Nor did he telework. On the other hand, the employer’s representative did not know if those options were considered or even possible at the relevant time.”
The grievance had been denied multiple times at various levels of the process.