Ontario Court of Appeal revisits arbitrability of employee benefit claims

If a new ruling by the Ontario Court of Appeal stands, it will be a case of “everything old is new again” on the issue of the proper venue for the pursuit of employee benefit claims. In both July 1997 and January 1999, we followed the somewhat tumultuous course of events unleashed by the Court of Appeal’s decision in Pilon v. International Minerals & Chemical Corporation and London Life Insurance Co., a decision which led to great uncertainty about whether employee benefit claims are arbitrable, and seemed to imply that all such claims are. (See “Ontario Court of Appeal decides arbitrability of employee benefit claims” and “Confusion over arbitrability of employee benefit claims resolved – maybe” on our Publications page.)

We last reported that the Ontario Divisional Court had appeared to restore the pre-Pilon approach of arbitrators to this issue. Arbitrators had held that the proper venue for employee benefit claims was determined by the language of the collective agreement: if that language indicated an intention by the employer to be responsible for providing benefits, the claim could be arbitrated. If the agreement was silent on benefits, or if the employer undertook only to pay plan premiums, the employee had to sue the insurer in court.

Now, in London Life Insurance Co. v. Dubreuil Brothers Employees Assn. (July 13, 2000), the Ontario Court of Appeal has affirmed the Divisional Court’s ruling. It expressed agreement with the Divisional Court’s holding that the controversial decision in Pilon never intended to bring about a fundamental expansion of arbitrators’ jurisdiction:

“There is no suggestion [that Pilon] contemplated that the arbitrator would adjudicate the issue of the insurer’s obligation to the employee under the terms of the policy. Such a conclusion would constitute a root and branch change in the law relating to labour arbitration. It would require the arbitrator to resolve a dispute not between the parties to the collective agreement, but between an employee and a stranger to that agreement.”

We will keep readers informed in the event this decision is appealed.

Related Articles

New Canada Labour Code Termination Entitlements to Come Into Effect on February 1, 2024

In 2018, as part of the federal government’s efforts to modernize its labour standards regime, the Budget Implementation Act, 2018,…

New Licensing Requirement for Temporary Help Agencies and Recruiters: Online Applications Now Open

In recent years, investigations by Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development (the “Ministry”) officers have reportedly uncovered issues…

Arbitrator Determines that National Day for Truth and Reconciliation was “Proclaimed” a Holiday Under Collective Agreements

In a past focus alert, we discussed the implementation of a new statutory holiday. The National Day for Truth and…