When a nurse with no blemishes on her record was fired for bullying, she was found to have been wrongfully dismissed. A recent Ontario case contrasts with the Peterborough case to show that robust policies, followed carefully, can be an employer’s best defence.
When two factory employees were disciplined for failing to check product quality, one received a written warning and the other a five day suspension. The key difference? The second employee had already been disciplined a number of times for similar offences. However, it was her reaction to the suspension that pushed her employer towards termination.
In a meeting with the plant manager the upset employee said “the first element to attack is water – the next is fire”. While innocuous on their own, the statement takes a sinister tone because the plant had had serious flooding the year before and contained a lot of flammable materials. The manager, police and arbitrator all took the statement as a threat. The griever denied it was a threat, saying she was religious and believed God would take action against the plant. She continued to refuse to take responsibility or apologize throughout the arbitration process.
“She couldn’t have been reinstated because she refused to acknowledge that what she said was threatening,” Filion Wakely Thorup Angeletti associate Paula Pettit said. “It was clear that this was the next step in what had already been imposed in terms of progressive discipline.”
There are distinct differences between this case and the recently reported Peterborough Regional Health Centre case. Both had employees who would not take responsibility for their actions and who seemed to refuse to accept authority, but only one of the employers was found to have been in the right.
In the Peterborough situation the nurse in question did not know about the complaints against her until the day she was suspended. She had no disciplinary action that could count against her and there was no progressive discipline. Comparatively, in this case the griever had already had a one day and three day suspension, and was given ample time to apologise after she threatened her manager. It’s not clear whether she would have kept her job if she had, but her refusal added to the just cause of her termination.
“In both cases you have an employee who refuses to acknowledge her wrongdoing and to simply apologize,” Pettit said. “In this case the employer has been diligent in ensuring that they are applying progressive discipline and you have an individual who really has exhausted all of the good will and all of the steps under the collective agreement. Definitely, the employer has followed through appropriately.”
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