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Employer cannot terminate employees’ life insurance coverage at age 71

April 20, 2021

All active employees were entitled to life insurance coverage, regardless of age, Arbitrator finds


In 2018, after the surviving spouse of a full-time faculty member at York University was denied a life insurance benefit following her husband’s sudden death at age 76, YUFA discovered that the Employer had been terminating active members’ life insurance coverage at age 71 and reducing members’ life insurance benefit (from 3X to 1X salary) at age 65. Soon after, YUFA filed a policy grievance challenging these age-based limitations. YUFA argued that the termination of employees’ life insurance coverage at age 71, even where those employees continued working in the ordinary course, violated the clear terms of the collective agreement and as well as the terms of the life insurance plan, as incorporated into the collective agreement. YUFA also alleged that both age-based limitations – that is, the reduction at age 65 and the termination of coverage at age 71 – violated the Human Rights Code.

In arguing that it had complied with the collective agreement, and in making various preliminary objections, the Employer relied heavily on a series of events from 2009, several years before the grievance was filed. Briefly, back in 2009, the Employer had advised two former YUFA representatives that, based on an interpretation of the life insurance plan provided by the insurer, the Employer would be terminating employees’ life insurance coverage at age 71, regardless of whether those employees continued working. Also at this time, the Employer sent out a memo to a subset of YUFA members announcing this change. YUFA did not grieve at the time.

Based on the events of 2009, the Employer argued that the grievance was untimely, that the grievance should be barred by the doctrine of laches (essentially, another delay argument), and that YUFA should be estopped from obtaining any remedy. On the merits, the Employer argued that that the events of 2009 amounted to a formal agreement between the parties about how to interpret the collective agreement. That is, in effect, the Employer argued that in 2009 the parties had mutually agreed to the age 71 life insurance coverage cut off and that YUFA could not now resile from that purported agreement. YUFA strenuously disputed each of these Employer arguments.

For a variety of reasons, the parties agreed to address YUFA’s collective agreement interpretation argument – as well as the Employer’s preliminary objections – first. The parties agreed that the Arbitrator would remain seized with respect to the Association’s Human Rights Code-based arguments.

The Arbitrator’s Decision

On April 20, 2021, Arbitrator Eli Gedalof issued his award. He upheld YUFA’s grievance and ruled that the collective agreement, read together with the life insurance plan which was incorporated into the collective agreement, clearly entitled all active employees to life insurance coverage, regardless of age, and that the parties had reached no “agreement” to the contrary in 2009. Arbitrator Gedalof also dismissed each of the Employer’s preliminary objections.

Regarding the events of 2009, the Arbitrator ruled that the Employer’s conduct – i.e. mentioning the new age 71 coverage cut off to two YUFA representatives (who were not members of the Executive and who had no authority to bind the Association) and then issuing a memo to a subset of YUFA members regarding same – did not amount to evidence of a purported “agreement” between the parties, which one would need to modify clear collective agreement terms. He accepted YUFA’s argument that to vary such clear collective agreement terms would require a written and signed agreement between the parties explicitly amending the collective agreement. Arbitrator Gedalof also determined that the events of 2009 did not justify dismissing the grievance on timeliness, laches, or estoppel grounds. Based on the evidence before him, Arbitrator Gedalof held that YUFA did not unambiguously acquiesce to the age-71 cut off and that, in any event, the Employer had failed to establish any detriment arising therefrom.

In light of his conclusions, Arbitrator Gedalof declared that the Employer had breached the collective agreement by terminating members’ life insurance coverage at age 71 and by failing to pay the late member’s surviving spouse the life insurance benefit she was owed as his beneficiary. Arbitrator Gedalof remained seized with respect to the Association’s Human Rights Code-based arguments, including YUFA’s argument that the age-65 reduction in members’ life insurance benefit violated the Code.


Mary-Elizabeth Dill, Emma Phillips

Practice Areas

Human Rights Law, Labour Law, Pension & Benefits Law