The City of Windsor was Justified
In another example of adjudicators becoming decreasingly tolerant of threats of violence in the workplace, an arbitrator recently ruled that the City of Windsor was justified in terminating an employee with a history of unacceptable conduct who showed no likelihood of learning from previous disciplinary actions.
Prior to the most recent collection of incidents that led to his termination, the employee had twice previously received three-day suspensions. The City decided to terminate him after four new incidents occurred over a 10-day period: threatening co-workers; verbally assaulting a group of protesters from a moving City vehicle; making racist remarks to co-workers about Italians; and driving a City vehicle directly at another vehicle that was driving the wrong way whilst making racist remarks about Arabs.
The employee’s union denied that certain of the incidents occurred at all, and claimed that the others were misconstrued. However, the arbitrator preferred the City’s explanation, especially the testimony of another City employee who gave evidence contrary to that of the former employee, and did not generally find the former employee’s story compelling.
Termination was too Harsh a Penalty
The union argued that, even if the incidents did occur as described, termination was too harsh a penalty in the circumstances. The City argued that not only were the four incidents sufficient to terminate the employee, but that they were also culminating incidents, in light of the two previous suspensions. The arbitrator sided with the City, calling the former employee “a simmering ball of negativity” who harboured disdain toward many of his co-workers and supervisors, and routinely engaged in inappropriate conduct in the workplace. He found that the employee’s behaviour was sufficient to justify the City terminating his employment, and thus denied the employee’s appeal.
The City of Windsor Terminating an Employee in a Unionized Workplace
Employees in unionized workplaces need to know that, while their unionized status lets them enjoy significant job security in most instances, serious, inappropriate behaviour such as threats of violence will increasingly be seen by arbitrators and courts as behaviour that justifies termination, even where the employee has the support of his or her union. Employers should be aware that, while unionized members are generally difficult to dismiss, threats of violence and other serious, inappropriate behaviour will generally be seen as acceptable grounds to fire an employee. This is doubly true where the inappropriate behaviour is part of a pattern. Employers who are dealing with such an employee should thus ensure that all such incidents are carefully documented and addressed with the employee.