Canada Employment and Immigration Union - http://ceiu-seic.ca/en/collective-agreement-interpretation/travel-directive-reimbursement-of-dependent-care-costs-and-the-meaning-of-sole-caregiver/
November 9, 2007

Travel Directive: reimbursement of dependent care costs and the meaning of “sole caregiver”

Members with dependant care expenses arising from government travel may be entitled to reimbursement and this entitlement depends, in part, on whether the member is considered to be a “sole caregiver”.

The meaning of sole caregiver has been clarified in a grievance adjudication involving the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada. In the case of Umar Khitab, the employer denied payment of childcare expenses when the grievor had been traveling on employer business, claiming that he was not a “sole caregiver.” The adjudicator determined that in the particular circumstances of the case, the grievor met the sole caregiver requirement under the Travel Directive.

The facts:

The grievor was married and had two sons who were aged nine and thirteen in the summer of 2004. His wife, who was not employed by the government of Canada, was out of the country on work-related matters that summer. The grievor was responsible for the children’s care in this period and his parents provided much of the care during the working day. They were not, however, able to provide overnight care for a three-day period when the grievor was required to travel on government business. As a result, he was forced to put his children into paid care.

The grievor’s claim for reimbursement was rejected exclusively on the grounds that he was not a sole caregiver under section 3.3.5 of the Travel Directive which reads:

The employee who is required to travel on government business shall be reimbursed actual and reasonable dependant care expenses up to a daily maximum of $35 Canadian, per household, with a declaration, or up to a daily maximum of $75 Canadian, per household, with a receipt when:

(a) the employee is the sole caregiver of a dependant who is under 18 years of age or has a mental or physical disability; or

(b) two federal employees living in the same household are the sole caregivers of a dependant who is under 18 years of age or has a mental or physical disability and both employees are required to travel on government business at the same time.

Dependant care allowance shall apply only for expenses that are incurred as a result of traveling and are additional to expenses the employee would incur when not traveling.

Arguments:

The grievor’s representative argued that the term “sole caregiver” was not defined in the Travel Directive. Accordingly, it was necessary to determine its meaning from the relevant individual context and circumstances. In this case, the grievor’s wife was out of the country making the grievor no different from a single parent.

The employer’s representative argued that the dependant care provisions of the Travel Directive were not intended for dual income families/households when one caregiver was forced to travel.

Decision:

The adjudicator agreed that only the context and circumstances could determine whether the grievor was a sole caregiver at the relevant time. In examining those circumstances, the adjudicator noted:

…if the grievor was not a “sole caregiver” at that time, …what other caregiver was there? The grievor’s wife was not at home and could not provide care to their sons.

He continued by observing:

One does not, in my opinion, have to be a “sole caregiver” for all time and in all circumstances to be entitled to be reimbursed dependant-care expenses under the Travel Directive. It is not a static but a dynamic role, and the fact that the grievor is married, although a consideration, is not an automatic bar to entitlement.

The adjudicator concluded the grievor was, in these circumstances, a sole caregiver and therefore entitled to reimbursement under the Travel Directive.

Conclusion:

While the adjudicator determined that the absence of one spouse did not necessarily make the other a “sole caregiver”, he did find that individual circumstances might lead to such a conclusion. For members with a spouse, this is a clear improvement over the view that having a spouse automatically disqualified them from being a sole caregiver under the Travel Directive.

Members with questions regarding entitlement under the Travel Directive should contact the CEIU office responsible for their local.

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