Pensions, Benefits and Disability
What legal issues arise out of pensions, benefits and disability?
Pensions, Benefits and Disability issues are the most overlooked and least understood areas of labour and employment law. Why? Simply put, the details and employee communications are usually left to a third-party supplier, whether a pension benefits company, insurer, or advisor. "Out of sight" effectively equates to "out of mind", and most employers rarely have to give a lot of thought to such entitlements, beyond determining levels of contribution to premiums.
However, pensions, benefits and disability issues are becoming more and more prevalent in recent years, and the decisions flowing from Courts and Arbitrators alike, are for the most part, less than employer friendly.
Pension, benefits and disability issues arise most often in the following areas:
Employment Contract Negotiation
Collective Agreement Negotiation
Disability Claims Litigation
Arbitration of Collective Agreement Entitlements
Termination of Employment for Non-culpable Absenteeism
Sale of Business
Should pensions, benefits and disability entitlements be addressed in employment contracts?
Yes, but employers are advised to be careful. The entitlement to pensions and benefits must be clear and unequivocal. There can be no room for ambiguity, because under the law, ambiguous language in an agreement is usually held against the employer and in favour of the employee.
It is for this reason that we strongly recommend having an experienced employment lawyer draft your company's employment agreements.
When terminating an employee, do I need to continue benefits past the statutory notice period?
In some cases, yes. Employers can be held liable for all benefits flowing from an employment agreement, long past the end of a statutory notice period and in fact to the end of the period of reasonable notice. In the absence of clear contractual language, ceasing benefits early without agreement can put an employer on the hook not just for premiums, but the full proceeds of any benefit, such as a life insurance policy payout.
Does a company's liability for employee benefits cease after the employee gets another job?
Not necessarily. Did you know that in many cases, even past employees can sue for disability coverage provided that the illness or accident arose, either while employed, or during the period of reasonable notice? In fact, this applies even if the past employee now has a full-time job with another company.
Can I terminate a disabled employee?
Yes, a company can terminate a disabled employee if there is no reasonable likelihood of return to employment and the company has considered whether or not it could ever accommodate the employees' disability. Normally, one would not think this is as important for employees on long-term disability, particularly if the long-term disability benefits continue to the age of 65. However, the mere fact that someone is on long-term disability, does not mean that the company is entitled to cease payment of drug benefit premiums, and other insurance premiums. To this end, under the right circumstances, companies can avoid that continued liability, by terminating employment.
What if I buy a unionized business?
Are you buying a unionized company (or its assets) from a receiver in bankruptcy? Normally, we think that bankruptcy brings to an end the liabilities of a debtor company. Not so in Labour Law. If you are purchasing a bankrupt unionized company, or even its assets, you can be liable for outstanding benefits payments as well as pension benefits which the bankrupt company owes to the union. The liability can flow through the receiver in bankruptcy directly to your company.
What can Hyde HR Law do for my company?
Hyde HR Law has almost 30 years of experience helping employers navigate pensions, benefits and disability issues though contract negotiations, strategic development and planning, and labour and employment litigation. Contact us today.