Oct 27, 2020
A recent article in Benefits Canada looks at a Supreme Court of Canada ruling that declared the Royal Canadian Mounted Police pension plan discriminated against job-sharing women and states that the ruling “should be a wake-up call to pension administrators that changes in plan design to accommodate equality rights are long overdue.” The article reports that the case involved three former RCMP officers who opted to job share and work reduced hours to spend more time with their children.
According to author Julius Melnitzer, the “Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act calculates job-share hours as part-time hours. The act doesn’t allow part-timers to buy back into the pension plan, an opportunity afforded to other full-time employees who are absent without pay and return to their jobs.
The aggrieved officers… claimed this policy offended their equality rights under the Charter of Rights. They argued that women dominated the group who had chosen the job-share option and urged that the hours they were away from work should be treated as leave without pay, giving them the opportunity to buy back into their pensions.” The SCC concurred that the plan offended the Charter of Right’s equality provisions; however, left it to the government to provide the remedy.
“By leaving the remedy to the government, the decision remains vague as to which feature of the buy-back provision made it unconstitutional,” says Andrea Boctor, a partner in Osler’s Pension and Benefits Group.
“If the discriminatory aspect was the former, the decision is broad and sweeping and will require many administrators to amend their plans to accommodate it,” says Andrea. “If it was the latter, it’s a simpler matter of matching options for all part-time workers regardless of their reasons for reducing their hours.”
The article also reports that the decision suggests that “courts will look at the sufficiency of any accommodation, as opposed to its reasonableness.” “Administrators will have to grapple with this, as historically the courts haven’t [seen] their role as second-guessing the sufficiency of the accommodation,” says Andrea. “So it may no longer be a case of just doing something, but a matter of getting it right.”
For more of Andrea’s insight, read Julius Melnitzer’s full article, “Supreme Court ruling in RCMP pension case may force plan design changes” in Benefits Canada.