Haida Gwaii teacher denied paid bereavement travel leave

Arbitrator sides with B.C. Teachers Federation in dispute over funeral trip

A labour dispute between School District 50 and the B.C. Teachers Federation over grievance leave has been decided in court.

Vanessa Wahl, a teacher employed with the Haida Gwaii school district, had applied for grievance leave following the death of her great-aunt in England. The collective agreement between the teacher’s union and the BCTF allows for five days of paid bereavement leave in the case of a death of an immediate family member, and one paid day of leave for extended family members or friends, with a provision for travel days to be paid as well at the employer’s discretion.

READ MORE: Haida Gwaii support workers strike deal with school district

Wahl submitted her Leave of Absence Request Form to her supervisor, asking for 3 ½ total work days away from her job. The request was approved, after which Wahl booked the flights for her trip.

When her form was returned however, it stated that a replacement teacher for two of the days would come out of Wahl’s salary. She expressed concern about this, and proceeded to attend her great-aunt’s funeral.

The resulting case heard a number of pieces of evidence, including past instances of teachers being paid for travel days if they were deemed “necessary to attend the funeral.” The trip from Haida Gwaii to England requires two days of travel each way to complete.

Ultimately though, arbitrator John B. Hall found that the specific language in the collective bargaining agreement did not support Wahl’s case. The agreement states that the “with pay” portion of the extended family bereavement leave applies only to one day, and does not apply to the travel portion of the trip.

Hall went on to write that while teachers on Haida Gwaii face additional challenges regarding these situations, he was bound by interpretation of the agreement, rather than what he necessarily thought may be fair. Hall closed by citing a previous case, Fording Coal, where an employee was also denied paid leave to attend a funeral.

READ MORE: Waiting for a clear, honest report on School Board

Alex Kurial | Journalist
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