Time Limits Not Stated

The employer refused to reimburse employees for expenses they incurred with relation to mileage, car insurance, parking and cell phone costs if the employees failed to submit claims on time. The employer asserted that the parties had negotiated a mandatory time limit which it needed for administrative convenience and orderly expense-tracking.
|Canadian Labour Reporter|Last Updated: 02/09/2011

What the Arbitrator Said: The employer argued that all of the reimbursements should be treated the same way, in part because the employees were required to fill out a single form, on a monthly basis, claiming mileage, insurance, parking and a cell phone allowance. However, we find that the collective agreement language in respect of the parking allowance and cell phone allowance are quite different [from the mileage and insurance provisions]. The provisions in respect of the cell phone allowance are contained in a completely separate letter of understanding. That letter … contains no limits on when the claim for the cell phone allowance can be made and there is no reason to imply such a limitation. A review of Article 19 [parking, insurance and mileage] reveals that the parties use the term “travel reimbursement” when they refer to mileage costs, and they treat parking costs differently. For example, employees are reimbursed for the actual cost of public parking. In contrast they are paid a negotiated amount towards the cost of insurance and maintaining and operating a vehicle … Article 19.03 [public parking] is unaffected by those [time] limits. We find the employer has breached the collective agreement in failing to pay the parking costs. Because there are no time limits … set out …, the employer could not reject them on the basis that they were claimed too late. [As far as the other reimbursements — for insurance and mileage — are concerned,] the employer has not agreed to pay all employees the same allowance or reimbursement … It is the filing of the claim and the approval of it by the supervisor, that triggers the employer’s obligation to pay the allowances. [U]ntil the employer knows about, and approves the travel and insurance claim, the employee has no right to the money. The employee’s right to the money depends on making a proper claim. It is not unusual to see time limits on claims for reimbursement of money. The employer does not and cannot know about the expense until the employee claims it. In this case, the employer did not unilaterally impose a time limit. Instead, the time limit was negotiated, and the parties chose language that makes it a mandatory time limit. We conclude … that the employer has not violated the collective agreement in failing to pay the untimely claims for travel allowance and insurance allowance. However, we find that the employer has violated the collective agreement in failing to pay the claims for parking and cell phone allowance because no time limit has been placed on those claims. We direct the employer to pay the claims of the grievors for parking and cell phone allowances that it rejected.