A National Attendance Management Policy implemented by Correctional Services Canada was not discriminatory, even though it “counted” absences due to illness, a federal appeals court has decided. The decision is a welcome reminder that attendance management programs, if properly drafted, can be legal and permissible.
Correctional Services Canada implemented the attendance management policy in response to concerns about its employees’ use of sick time. The policy was intended to be non-disciplinary, and to be used as a tool to assist employees in maintaining attendance and to help identify employees who might require accommodation from the employer.
Supervisors were required to flag situations in which employees’ absenteeism exceeded the 12-month rolling average for their peer group. If absences were caused by situations requiring accommodation, no further action under the program was needed.
The employees’ union challenged the policy at arbitration, claiming that it discriminated against employees because of disability and family status by counting, in the number of days of absence, absences due to disability or for family-related leave.
The arbitration board agreed with the union, but the Federal Court of Appeal disagreed, finding that employees did not experience any “adverse treatment” as a result of those absences being included in the group average or the individual employee’s count. Therefore, the court concluded, the policy was not discriminatory because of disability or family status.
The appeal court stated:
“Likewise, nothing adverse flowed under the NAMP from including absences due to disability or for family-related leave in the total number of days an employee was absent for purposes of simply determining if the employee exceeded the relevant peer group threshold. Under the NAMP (at least as it was written), all that was to transpire, once the threshold was exceeded, was that the supervisor was required to be satisfied as to the legitimacy of the absences and to identify, where possible, situations where an accommodation was required, as would be the case if the absences were occasioned by a disability or if the employee were entitled to leave to address family-related responsibilities accorded protection under the CHRA. If accommodations were required, the employee was to be removed from the NAMP. Once again, at least at this initial stage of discussion with the supervisor, nothing adverse occurred. The mere identification of employees who exceed a group average threshold and initial discussions with them have been found to be permissible in other cases . . .”
The appeal court concluded that the attendance management program was not discriminatory.
Canada (Attorney General) v. Bodnar, 2017 FCA 171 (CanLII)