In Toronto District School Board v CUPE Local 4400, Arbitrator Gedalof held that the Toronto District School Board (the “Board”) was not obligated to reimburse Board employees for expenses arising from the transition to working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Union alleged that the Board’s failure to reimburse the costs resulting from the transition violated the Collective Agreement, as well as the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (the “ESA”), and constituted an unreasonable exercise of management rights. The Union sought reimbursement for members’ expenses ranging from office supplies, furniture and technology such as laptops, tables and printers to increased telephone, internet and utility expenses. The Union also sought reimbursement for the cost of maintaining personal space to work, including one-sixth of one member’s monthly rent.
On March 12, 2020, all publicly funded schools in Ontario were ordered to be closed. Remote learning commenced on April 6, 2020. While schools opened again in September 2020, subsequent closures were ordered. Throughout the closures, Board teachers and other staff continued to work remotely or through a combination of working from home and attending the workplace.
In response to the Union’s claims for reimbursement, the Board relied on a policy that it issued in April 2020 entitled “Banking and Financial Protocols for School Staff During the TDSB School Closure” (the “Reimbursement Policy”). The Reimbursement Policy was updated on May 29, 2020 to state that while staff’s out-of-pocket purchases of technology equipment, computer peripherals and supplies for work from home would generally not be reimbursed without prior approval, each claim for reimbursement would be assessed on a case-by-case basis.