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An Ontario court has denied an appeal by Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and upheld an earlier ruling that the bank broke federal labour law by allowing employees to work unpaid overtime for years.

The Toronto-based bank had appealed a 2020 decision by Ontario’s Superior Court that held CIBC liable for unpaid overtime owed to as many as 31,000 employees who worked as tellers or in other front-line customer service roles between 1993 and 2009.

CIBC challenged five separate issues of law relating to liability, damages and limitation periods. But Justice Peter Lauwers and Justice Lorne Sossin of Ontario’s Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal and awarded costs to the class action’s plaintiffs.

The decision means CIBC is still liable for former bankwide policies on overtime that failed to record actual hours of work by thousands of front-line staff, illegally putting the onus on employees to get overtime pay preapproved by managers. The lead plaintiff, teller Dara Fresco, and other CIBC employees said in affidavits that while overtime was expected at the bank, asking for compensation was discouraged, and that preapproval for overtime wages was difficult to get.

CIBC’s policies required overtime hours be preauthorized except in “extenuating circumstances,” but the court found that was too restrictive and violated the Canada Labour Code, which requires employers to pay overtime if they “require or permit” it.

“We’re reviewing the decision and assessing next steps,” CIBC spokesman Tom Wallis said in an e-mail.

The class action was launched in the summer of 2007, and any damages CIBC may be required to pay are still to be determined. Lawyers for the plaintiffs had sought $500-million in damages, and the court will hear submissions from experts in late September on how damages should be calculated.

But Steven Barrett, a lawyer at Goldblatt Partners LLP who represents the CIBC employees covered by the class action, in an interview urged the bank to “come to the table and negotiate a fair and reasonable outcome for their employees.” He pointed to a 2014 settlement that Bank of Nova Scotia reached with employees on similar issues.

“They’ve had their day in court. It’s been almost 15 years since these employees were brave enough to bring this class action, and it’s time for them to at least get some compensation,” Mr. Barrett said.

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