RBC employee fired for assaulting manager (Legal View)

Employee’s denial, lack of remorse despite witnesses to assault add up to just cause
By Jeffrey R. Smith
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 05/06/2012

A labour adjudicator has upheld the firing of a bank employee who physically assaulted her manager during an argument.

Mary Anne Downes was a part-time customer service representative (CSR) at an RBC branch in Windsor, Ont. She started working at the branch in 2003 and had been an RBC employee since 1997.

In November 2009, a former co-worker at Downes’ previous branch became manager at her current branch. But Downes wasn’t happy about this development as she previously had issues with the co-worker.

Doctor’s notes required

Upon taking charge, the manager was told by the outgoing manager that Downes was known to miss a lot of work and, therefore, was required to provide a doctor’s note if she was sick for three or more days.

Downes was off sick from Dec. 29, 2009, to Jan. 8, 2010. She provided a doctor’s note stating she was unfit for work. The manager learned Downes had taken 15 sick days in 2009 and, with advice from RBC’s advisory services group, the manager told Downes she would need a medical note for every sick day taken and failure to provide one would mean she wouldn’t be paid for the day.

Downes became angry upon being told this and stormed out of the manager’s office, slamming the door.

On Jan. 14, 2010, the manager went to the front of the bank to perform standard observational coaching of the CSRs.

The manager noticed Downes had her purse with her while she served customers, which was contrary to an instruction that had been given to CSRs a few weeks earlier. The instruction was part of an effort to address cash shortages that had come up. Though Downes hadn’t attended the meeting, she had been told about it by other CSRs.

So, the manager told Downes about the requirement and apologized for not having told her about it earlier. After discussing where to put the purse, they agreed to go ask the branch operating officer.

As they walked to the office area in the back, the manager heard Downes ask loudly, in front of staff and customers, “Is that in case I steal?”

The manager told Downes that was inappropriate and asked her to come to her office to discuss it quietly.

As they passed the operating officer’s office, Downes walked in and tried to speak to her but the operating officer was on the phone. The manager claimed Downes then left the office and grabbed her by the right elbow, squeezing until it hurt. Downes then pushed the manager towards the manager’s office and angrily said, “Get into the office now.”

Other employees in the office area reported seeing Downes grab the manager and push her. The manager asked Downes to let go of her elbow and Downes responded by telling her to “Go to hell, you will never speak to me that way again.”

The manager told Downes to go home for the rest of the day without pay, and she told the operating officer to tell Downes not to come in the next day. The manager didn’t think the company’s security cameras — which faced the customer area — caught the incident but several staff members in adjacent offices had seen what happened.

Later that day, the manager asked RBC’s investigation services to check out earlier reports Downes had accessed the private information of two staff members without authorization, which was a violation of RBC’s confidentiality policy.

Downes was summoned to a meeting on Jan. 18, 2010, to explain what happened. She said the manager had a grudge against her because of their time working together at the other branch. She claimed there were several incidents since the manager arrived at the new branch that made Downes fear the manager was out to get her, and she felt humiliated when the manager told her about the new medical notes requirement.

Employee challenges manager’s honesty

As for the Jan. 14 incident, Downes claimed she only asked: “Is this because someone thinks someone is stealing?”

Downes said the manager became angry and told her it was inappropriate, and admitted she told the manager to “Go to hell.” As for the alleged assault, Downes claimed she grabbed the manager’s arm because she thought the manager was going to fall after she accidentally bumped into her.

She denied squeezing the manager’s arm but admitted it was possible she pushed her towards the office. Downes insisted the manager was not honest about the nature of the incident.

Downes also explained she had accessed the two staff members’ accounts in order to get their addresses for Christmas cards and did not think she had done anything wrong.

Downes said she felt RBC wasn’t interested in hearing her side of the story and felt there was a scheme against her.

On Jan. 19, 2010, RBC terminated Downes’ employment. Downes responded by suing for wrongful dismissal, claiming the manager bullied and harassed her, the assault was trumped up and RBC didn’t investigate the incident sufficiently by checking video evidence and accepting the manager’s account without question.

However, the adjudicator found Downes didn’t like the manager’s management style, which was significantly different from the previous manager. In addition, Downes was annoyed with the medical note requirement and these issues may have coloured Downes’ perception of a scheme against her.

Also, the recommendation for dismissal came from RBC’s advisory group, not the manager, said the adjudicator.

Though the manager and Downes had differing accounts of the incident, the other employees who witnessed it gave similar descriptions to the manager. It was unlikely they mistook an accidental collision and innocent grab for an assault, said the adjudicator.

The cameras also would not have been any help because they faced away from the offices and RBC did not need to consult the recordings, particularly since several employees were present to see and hear what happened.

Given the witness reports and the lack of Downes’ credibility, the adjudicator found Downes assaulted her manager, which was misconduct severe enough to warrant dismissal, particularly since she showed no remorse, tried to downplay the seriousness of the incident and accused management of lying.

The accessing of staff accounts would also have warranted discipline, said the adjudicator, but Downes had already been dismissed when RBC was informed of the investigation results.

See Downes v. Royal Bank, 2011 CarswellNat 5450 (Can. Labour Code Adj.).

Jeffrey R. Smith is the editor of Canadian Employment Law Today, a publication that looks at workplace law from a business perspective. For more information, visit www.employmentlawtoday.com.

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