Employee trashes company truck

Employee didn't ask for permission to take truck, then had 4 drinks before driving back to office

An Ontario employer had just cause to fire an employee who smashed up a company truck while driving drunk, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice has ruled.

Jaroslaw Dziecielski, 50, was a vice-president of quality control and standards compliance for Lighting Dimensions, a producer of materials and fixtures for the automotive industry located in Toronto. In 23 years of working for Lighting Dimensions, Dziecielski had no disciplinary issues.

Dziecielski’s duties included a significant amount of driving to meet with customers. He often drove his own truck, but sometimes used a company pickup truck as well. On April 23, 2007, Dziecielski had a meeting with a customer north of Toronto and he decided to use the company truck. He didn’t ask permission to use it, though he later acknowledged that he should have.

After the morning meeting, Dziecielski decided to stop for lunch on his way back to the office. During the one hour he spent at lunch, he drank four beers. He was confident he wasn’t drunk and continued driving back to work.

On his way, Dziecielski lost control of the truck and it went off the road, rolling over several times. The truck was damaged beyond repair and Dziecielski suffered serious injuries.

At the hospital, police obtained a sample of Dziecielski’s blood. He was subsequently charged with several criminal offences, including drunk driving. Dziecielski pled guilty to one charge.

Five days after the accident, Dziecielski was released from hospital and returned to work. He and the company both felt it was too soon for him to be back at work, so he went home. Soon after, Dziecielski’s wife arrived at Lighting Dimensions to retrieve his personal items and said Dziecielski might not return.

On May 23, four weeks after the accident, Lighting Dimensions terminated Dziecielski’s employment for driving a company vehicle without authorization, damaging the vehicle and his criminal charge of drunk driving. The company also indicated he had breached policies in the employee handbook, which Dziecielski had signed years earlier. After the termination, the company learned Dziecielski had previously had his licence suspended while he received a car allowance.

Dziecielski sued for wrongful dismissal, claiming termination was too harsh for an employee with a long, spotless record.

The court noted that, usually, a single isolated incident would not be just cause to fire a long-term employee. However, the misconduct in question was very serious and resulted in criminal charges. The issue wasn’t just being intoxicated while working, but also engaging in dangerous conduct, said the court. Though Dziecielski wasn’t given a chance to explain his actions, the court found this wasn’t necessary because Lighting Dimensions had all the relevant facts from police reports and legal documents.

The court also found that Dziecielski’s insistence that he wasn’t drunk was a failure to take full responsibility for his actions, despite the guilty plea. Given the seriousness and danger of Dziecielski’s conduct and the damage to the employer’s property, the court found Lighting Dimensions had just cause for dismissal. Dziecielski was ordered to pay the company $28,898.83 for its legal costs. See Dziecielski v. Lighting Dimensions Inc., 2012 CarswellOnt 3489 (Ont. S.C.J.).

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