Reinstatement not possible after manager-employee altercation

Altercation leading to dismissal damaged employment relationship beyond repair: Board
By Jeffrey R. Smith
|Canadian Employment Law Today|Last Updated: 05/25/2010

An Ontario assisted living facility did not have just cause to fire an employee, but having the employee return to work was not an option, the Ontario Arbitration Board has ruled.

Sophia Brown was a personal support worker for Leisure World, a group home for elderly residents, for four years. In July 2008, a resident at the facility wanted Brown to take her to the laundry room. Brown was busy and denied the request in a surly manner.

The discussion escalated into an argument and Brown followed the resident to her bedroom, where she became verbally abusive.

Brown’s manager suspended her for four days. Brown denied she did anything wrong and became so upset she had to leave the disciplinary meeting and went out to the parking lot. The manager followed her out and tried to calm her down.

Over the next two days Brown had problems with anxiety and other health problems related to her recently-discovered unplanned pregnancy, which her employer didn’t know about. The doctor told her to stay off work.

Brown called a friend in the HR department for advice and she was told to send a doctor’s note and the facility would send her insurance forms. Brown then called her manager, who insisted she deliver the doctor’s note in person and pick up more paperwork. The contradictory instructions made Brown more upset.

Brown brought the doctor’s note the next day and was asked to wait until her manager was available. She had to wait for about 40 to 50 minutes, during which time she became more angry. When the manager finally met with her, she said Brown’s health benefits would not be paid without more information and gave her a form for the doctor to fill out.

Brown was frustrated and angry and when she got up to leave she pushed past the manager, who became upset herself. The facility decided Brown’s actions in the meeting combined with her incident with the resident and her lack of acknowledgment of wrongdoing were grounds for termination.

The board found Brown’s misconduct in the altercation with the resident and her disciplinary meeting was not acceptable, particularly since she continued to deny she did anything wrong, but not sufficient cause for dismissal. She was under significant stress because of her health problems that was exacerbated by her work situation. The contradictory instructions she received from her manager and HR added to the stress and making her wait before meeting with the manager was “unacceptable,” said the board.

However, the board found the employer had a legitimate reason to suspect the legitimacy of Brown’s condition. The employer didn’t know about her pregnancy and, from its perspective, she was on a suspension and suddenly taking sick leave. The board also found making Brown wait was insensitive, but likely wasn’t deliberate.

The board found both the manager and Brown made bad decisions and reacted poorly, which made an unfortunate situation worse. Though there wasn’t cause for dismissal, the situation eroded the employment relationship to the point where reinstatement wasn’t an option, said the board.

The board ordered the employer to pay Brown four months’ salary plus the minimum notice and severance pay under employment standards legislation. See Leisure World v. S.E.I.U., Local 1, 2010 CarswellOnt 1248 (Ont. Arb. Bd.).

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