February 24, 2010

In these difficult economic times, employers are looking for ways to control the soaring costs of retirement benefits, while unions are working to preserve and expand existing entitlements for workers. Important developments in recent case law and the repeal of mandatory retirement raise significant questions about the rights and obligations of unions, employers, and employees in relation to retirement benefits. Are age-based differences in pension and retirement benefits coverage permissible? Does an employee have a right to sue an employer for altering or terminating his or her retiree benefit plan? Lancaster’s panel of experts will address these and the following issues:

  • Do an employee’s retirement benefits “freeze” upon retirement at the level defined by the collective agreement in effect at the time? If the entitlements under a later collective agreement are more generous, does the retired employee have a right to the improved benefits?
  • What measures can an employer implement to contain the costs associated with a retirement benefit program? When can an employer decrease retirement benefits? Are age-based reductions in benefits associated with retirement benefit plans discriminatory? Can employers increase the retirees’ share of the costs of retirement benefits?
  • Can unions negotiate and grieve retirement benefit matters on behalf of retired bargaining unit members? What is the appropriate venue for resolving disputes about post-retirement benefits – the courts or labour arbitration?
  • Does the termination of employee benefits at age 65 constitute age-based discrimination?
  • Can an employee be simultaneously entitled to separation payment – for example, an incentive for resignation – as well as retirement benefits? Can an employee’s right to non-pension retirement benefits arise before his or her pension kicks in? Can an employee retire and continue to receive retirement benefits if he or she is re-hired?
  • Can an employee sue an employer for its failure to adequately explain retirement options, changes in benefit entitlements, or pension plan eligibility? Will statements made in communications, such as brochures and plan outlines, about retirement benefit entitlements be binding on the employer? How can employers implement effective communication strategies to reduce potential liability?
  • Will the purchaser of a business be held responsible for liabilities in respect of the vendor’s post-retirement benefit plans?

This audio conference has been approved by the following:

  • The Law Society of Saskatchewan for 1.5 Continuing Professional Development hours.
  • The Law Society of New Brunswick for 1.5 Continuing Professional Development hours.
  • The Law Society of Upper Canada for 1.5 hours (Labour Law) towards the professional development requirement for certification.
  • The Law Society of British Columbia for 1.5 Continuing Professional Development hours.