First instance of misconduct not grounds for dismissal

Chaba v. Ensign Drilling Inc. (2002), 116 A.C.W.S. (3d) 382 (Alta. Prov. Ct.)

Chaba brought an action for wrongful dismissal after his employment as a roughneck on the defendant’s drilling rig was terminated.

The main issue before the court was whether a failure to follow instructions or policy constituted just cause for dismissal. The defendant had a safety manual which specifically prohibited employees in his position from operating equipment without authorization. The manual stated failure to comply with this policy could result in immediate termination of employment.

Chaba was instructed to remove a build-up of ice by use of a crowbar and pickaxe. When he was unable to complete the task by this method, he attempted to remove the ice by using a loader although he was not authorized to operate this machinery. In the process he caused about $750 worth of damage to the loader.

He told his supervisor what he had done and about the damage to the equipment. He received a written warning from the Ensign Drilling which he signed. At the end of the next day, Chaba’s employment was terminated for using the loader, not following instructions and causing damage to the equipment.

The court held the misconduct did not constitute just cause for dismissal. Although operating the equipment was a clear violation of the company’s safety policy and Chaba had failed to follow explicit instructions, dismissal was not a sanction which was proportionate to the misconduct in question.

The court stated it was a single, isolated incident which was an error in judgment and not a wilful act of disobedience or defiance of the authority of the employer. Furthermore it was notable the termination was not immediate.

Despite the fact a drilling rig is an extremely dangerous worksite and therefore a strict level of obedience with respect to safety procedures should be expected, the court found in this case the use of the loader was not a genuine safety issue.

Given there was no cause for dismissal, the court held that Chaba was entitled to reasonable notice in the amount of one-month’s pay.

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