A recent Alberta Court of Appeal decision (Alberta Health Services v. Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, July 5, 2013) has taught an employer a vital lesson about time limits in a collective agreement. The collective agreement in question said that “disciplinary action” “will be taken within fifteen (15) days… of the date the Employer first became aware of, or reasonably should have become aware of the occurrence of the act.” The employer fired the employee one day late. The arbitrator said the time limit was mandatory and therefore the discharge was void. The Chambers judge disagreed but the Court of Appeal reinstated the arbitrator’s decision.
If you don’t want vital actions like discharges to be defeated by technicalities, then don’t agree to such time limits. If you are stuck with them, then you must assume they are mandatory and be very careful to operate within them.
In a similar way, this decision is good news for employers who want grievances dismissed that were filed outside the collective agreement time limits.