In an arbitration decision published June 12, a grievance calling for a school district’s employment benefits to continue past the effective date of a teacher’s resignation was denied. After three teachers retired, their health insurance benefits ceased, but the teachers’ association demanded that the school district continue to provide and pay for these benefits up to the end of the school year, defined by the contract as August 31.
The basic facts of this grievance were undisputed. Both the school district and the teachers’ association agreed that the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) contained the agreed terms regarding employment benefits. These terms noted that all full-time employees are eligible to participate in the district’s insurance plan on a “yearly basis.”
Three employees who had participated in the insurance plan submitted their resignation to be effective on the last working day of the school year. Because they had fulfilled their contractual obligation to work the required number of days, they continued to receive payment for the school year through August. However, their health and other fringe benefits ceased as of the effective date of their resignation or the last day of the month of their resignation, in accordance with the CBA.
The teachers’ association filed a grievance arguing that the fringe benefits should continue through the entire school year, as defined by the CBA to end on August 31, as the employees had received their paychecks through that period.
The district argued that its past practice had always been to terminate employment benefits as of the effective date of resignation and was able to show that it had consistently held to that practice. Furthermore, employees who were contemplating retirement were routinely advised of severance matters by the district treasurer, including notification that health, dental, vision, and/or life insurance generally would end as of the effective date of resignation.
Interestingly, the previous teachers’ association president, who had more than two decades of leadership in the association, provided testimony that when an employee resigns or retires, the employee severs the employment relationship, and the fringe benefits and other contractual entitlements cease as of the date of resignation or at the end of the month. Additionally, she had encouraged the association to bargain for fringe benefits to continue through the end of the school year but was unsuccessful in bargaining for this very provision.
The arbitrator agreed with the Board of Education and held that an employee ceases to be an employee as of the effective date of resignation and as such ceases to be a member of the bargaining unit covered by the CBA. The arbitrator went so far as to declare that the association is “estopped from taking a contrary position through this Grievance since it has been long-standing and it has been aware of the District’s practice.” The association, the arbitrator held, must bargain for this provision in the contract if it is so desired.