Dozing in the control room

Manager found employee sleeping instead of monitoring readings of toxic chemicals

This instalment of You Make the Call features an employee who was fired for being caught dozing while on duty.

Craig Huskinson, 52, worked for Invista, later Dupont Canada, for 20 years as an operator in the company’s refrigerants for cooling and air conditioning products department.

On Jan. 9, 2010, Huskinson was working as a control room operator while co-workers worked outside. His job was to monitor the temperature and pressure readings during the production of refrigerants, which was a hazardous process due to the high temperature, pressure and toxicity of the chemicals. He was permitted short breaks in the cafeteria, which was beside the control room and where he could keep an eye on things.

The manager on call came by to check on things and when he looked in the control room, he saw Huskinson lying across three chairs with some clothes or other material as a pillow, facing away from the control panel, apparently asleep. When the manager made a noise, Huskinson moved into an upright position and the manager said it wasn’t a good situation to be running the process in, to which Huskinson said nothing.

The manager asked Huskinson if he was feeling okay, to which Huskinson replied in the affirmative. The manager left him in the control room and instructed another worker to keep an eye on things. The manager also told the health and safety person on duty to keep an eye on the refrigerant operations and occasionally patrol the department.

Over the next couple of weeks, management discussed the situation and the manager checked to see if Huskinson had any medical limitations, which he did not. Invista was concerned Huskinson was setting a bad example and about the seriousness of the misconduct because of the hazardous process he was supposed to have been monitoring. It also took into account his employment record, which included a 2008 performance review that noted he needed improvement.

Huskinson told management he took the matter seriously and was sorry for what happened. He explained he had had a busy holiday season and was tired, but denied intentionally making a bed for himself nor did he lie flat out. Invista asked him to write a list of reasons why he shouldn’t be asleep on the job, to which Huskinson agreed.

It was decided Huskinson didn’t have the right qualities for the job and he could no longer be trusted to work unsupervised. On Jan. 19, 2010, Invista terminated Huskinson’s employment.

You Make the Call

Did Invista have just cause for dismissal?
OR
Should the employee have been given another chance?

If you said the employee should be given another chance, you’re right. The arbitrator acknowledged that sleeping on the job, particularly in this workplace, should not be tolerated by the employer. The arbitrator also found Huskinson was not upfront about his sleeping and it was obvious he did not just inadvertently fall asleep, said the arbitrator. Though Huskinson admitted falling asleep, he continued to deny it was planned. It also created a safety risk for his co-workers and the environment if something happened.

However, the arbitrator considered his 20 years of service, as well as the fact the manager left him on duty in the control room after finding him asleep, even though others were instructed to keep an eye on things. Huskinson also worked more shifts before his termination, which indicated Invista still had trust in him to do the job.

The arbitrator also pointed out the request for Huskinson to write out the reasons not to fall asleep on the job and his discussions with management made it appear he would get another chance if he acknowledged his misconduct.

The arbitrator found a suspension dating back to his dismissal would serve the purpose of impressing upon Huskinson the seriousness of his misconduct, given his length of service and his agreement to do what was required of him to keep his job. See Dupont Canada v. C.E.P., Local 28-0, 2011 CarswellOnt 3408 (Ont. Arb. Bd.).

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