Truck driver fired after calling boss ‘idiot’

Sending worker packing during heat-of-the-moment argument can often leave employer on short side of wrongful dismissal claim
By Jeffrey R. Smith
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 09/18/2008

Many employers have trouble determining whether misconduct warrants dismissal or lesser discipline. Matters can become more complicated if a misunderstanding is involved, as a trucking company discovered after it fired a driver for insubordination and ended up on the losing end of a wrongful dismissal claim.

Ayr Motor Express, based in Woodstock, N.B., hired Merrill McKay as a truck driver in November 2003. Over the next two years, McKay was disciplined for two incidents. In the first, he fell asleep behind the wheel and caused an accident that resulted in the loss of a company truck and trailer. His second disciplinary incident came when he took two weeks of unauthorized leave. In each case, McKay was given a formal letter of reprimand that warned similar behaviour wouldn’t be tolerated in the future. There was no mention of the possibility he could be fired.

On Feb. 18, 2006, McKay arrived in Winnipeg with a load of freight from Ontario. When he arrived, he was dispatched to Calgary, though he was legally required to rest for 24 hours before he continued driving. Thinking he might have to drive to the United States after he reached Calgary, McKay arranged with Ayr’s dispatcher to rest for 34 hours, which was the legal requirement for driving to the U.S.