Bus driver cuts ties to employer

Employee chafed at frequent requests from supervisors to check his uniform

An Ontario transit company was entitled to fire an employee after repeated violations of the dress code, the Ontario Arbitration Board has ruled.

York BRT Services operated a rapid transit bus service in York Region, a suburban area outside of Toronto. It had a policy that required all employees to wear the approved uniform and be neat and clean in appearance at all times, including tucked-in and buttoned shirts.

One particular driver caused some problems with regard to the uniform requirements. Over four years of service with York BRT since his 2005 hiring, the driver was disciplined seven times, mostly for uniform violations. He first received a verbal warning on April 7, 2006, for operating his bus with no tie, unbuttoned sleeves and an untucked shirt. Two months later he received a written warning for again having no tie and a shirt that wasn’t fully buttoned.

Eight days after his written warning, the driver was given another written warning for being absent from work. Another case of absenteeism a month later resulted in a three-day suspension.

Concerned with the driver’s repeated misconduct, York BRT drew up a last chance agreement on Sept. 19, 2006. The employee received a four-day suspension instead of termination but the company expected him to improve attendance and always be in full uniform.

On Dec. 13, 2007, the driver arrived at work without his tie. He told a supervisor it was in his car and he would put it on when he got on the bus. However, when a supervisor checked later, his jacket was zipped up and he refused to unzip it to show his tie. He said it was harassment for the supervisor to ask to see his tie, but he was told it was a reasonable job-related request. The driver was told any refusal in the future would be considered insubordination.

On Aug. 6, 2009, the driver came to work with his jacket fully zipped and he refused a supervisor’s request to see his tie. He asked if he was out of uniform and was told he wouldn’t be given a vehicle without showing his tie. He refused and was sent home.

The driver said he wasn’t aware of a requirement to show he was wearing a tie and claimed he was being targeted. He was suspended for three days and when he returned to work his coat was again fully zipped and his shirt untucked. He refused requests to unzip his jacket until another supervisor and another employee told him to “just show them your tie.” He did so and started his route.

Later in the day, a supervisor checked on him and saw his shirt untucked. The driver again said he was being targeted and refused to tuck in his shirt because he was sitting down and driving. He was relieved of duty.

At a meeting on Aug. 12, the driver insisted his shirt was tucked in and the supervisor was lying. The driver said he believed having a fully zipped jacket was a proper uniform. Management decided he was determined to challenge authority and had no intention of improving his behaviour, so it terminated his employment for insubordination.

The board found the collective agreement permitted York BRT to discharge an employee for “direct or deliberate refusal to follow direction or policy from a supervisor.” It also found the driver should have known of the uniform requirements and had been sufficiently warned with previous discipline that he needed to comply with supervisors’ request to see his uniform. His refusal to tuck in his shirt when it was visibly untucked was “a blatant act of insubordination” that warranted dismissal, said the arbitrator. See York BRT Services LP v. A.T.U., Local 113, 2010 CarswellOnt 8673 (Ont. Arb. Bd.).

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