Sick Leave Buyback Payments Can Be At Previous Year’s Rate

The collective bargaining agreement governing police officers working for the Borough of West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania contains a sick leave buyback clause. The contract allows police officers to accumulate up to 480 hours of sick leave. If an officer’s accumulation exceeds 480 hours, the contract requires the Borough to buy back five days of sick leave “at the hourly rate applicable to the officer during that calendar year.”

When the Borough calculated the 2010 sick leave buyback payments at 2009 wage rates, officers filed a grievance. An arbitrator eventually sided with the Borough, finding that it had appropriately calculated sick leave buyback payments.

In the eyes of the Arbitrator, the contract clause was “not unambiguous.” That left the Arbitrator to turn to “extrinsic evidence” to assist in the interpretation of the contract. However, the record before the Arbitrator had no information as to bargaining history on the issue, and the past practice appeared to be inconsistent.
That left the Arbitrator to apply his own interpretation to the phrase “during that calendar year.” The Arbitrator concluded that “it made no difference when the employer paid for the hours police officers sold back to the employer; the amount of that sale was determined by the wage rate in effect when the accumulation that triggered the sale occurred.”

West Conshohocken Borough, Pennsylvania, LAIG 6942 (Colflesh, 2011).

This article appears in the November 2011 issue.