Physical contact between employees forbidden

Company policy was very clear: any violators would be immediately terminated

Joseph Rozmus was employed as a production supervisor for Maple Leaf Meats in Winnipeg. Prior to his dismissal in April 2000, Mr. Rozmus worked at Maple Leaf Meats (or its predecessor) for 26 years. During his employment his record was unblemished. However on April 3, 2000, Mr. Rozmus’ employment was terminated without notice. The reasons given for the termination related to two incidents involving physical contact with a female employee. Mr. Rozmus brought an action against Maple Leaf for wrongful dismissal.

At the plant where Mr. Rozmus worked there is a great deal of moving machinery and many of the employees carry knives for use during the course of their employment. To prevent injuries in this environment the management of Maple Leaf developed strict rules relating to physical contact between employees.

The first incident occurred in December 1999. A female employee who was temporarily assigned to Mr. Rozmus’ area made an error addressing certain cartons of meat. While attempting to discipline the employee Mr. Rozmus came up to the employee, took her by the arm and either poked, patted or slapped her on the shoulder while saying, “Gabie, Gabie, Gabie. How many times do I have to tell you…” Mr. Rozmus was upset and annoyed.

The employee was surprised and disturbed by Mr. Rozmus’ conduct. Although the female employee reported the matter to her regular supervisor, no grievance was lodged with the union. Management did not become aware of this incident until a second incident occurred. During the course of an investigation into the second incident, it learned of the December 1999 incident.

The second incident occurred in March 2000. Mr. Rozmus came up from behind another female employee grabbed her by the arm, turned her around to face him and reprimanded her about the manner in which she had thrown a ham toward a bin, which missed the bin and hit the floor. At the time the employee had been alongside moving equipment and had a knife in her possession. The force with which Mr. Rozmus turned her around forced her to stumble off the rubber mat on which she had been standing. The incident upset the employee causing her to cry and run off to the women’s change room.

A few hours later when the shop steward arrived for his shift, the employee informed him of her altercation with Mr. Rozmus. A meeting was held with Mr. Rozmus, the shop steward and the employee during which meeting Mr. Rozmus apologized to the employee. Despite his knowledge that the union was involved in investigating the matter, Mr. Rozmus did not write up a report on this incident nor did he report it to his superiors. Mr. Rozmus testified that, as a line-level supervisor, he had the authority to resolve disputes and as far as he was concerned the dispute had been resolved. He had apologized and his apology had been accepted.

The Court was satisfied on the evidence that on two separate occasions, Mr. Rozmus had reprimanded female employees and, in the course thereof, came into physical contact with them. In each case he was made aware by subsequent events that the female employees were upset by his conduct. In neither case did he report these incidents to his superiors.

The Court also noted that there was a company policy in place that strictly forbade physical contact between employees. It was understood among employees that termination of employment would be management’s first response to any sort of physical exchange between employees. On previous occasions management had terminated employees when there had been physical exchange among them, including good-natured water fights, throwing meat at one another as well as aggressive altercations.

Mr. Rozmus was aware of these policies. It was one of his responsibilities to make employees aware of these policies. In addition, Mr. Rozmus in his role as supervisor had been advised that the best practice was to avoid touching employees because his actions were capable of being misinterpreted.

The Court found that Mr. Rozmus should have reported these incidents to management when they occurred. Management should not have learned of these incidents from a union representative.

Mr. Rozmus’ behaviour in light of company policy and his subsequent failure to report these incidents to management were sufficient to justify termination without notice. The action was dismissed.

For more information:

Rozmus v. Maple Leaf Meats Inc., 2002 MBQB 75.

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