Recruiter shipped out after missing benchmarks

Employee didn't improve after several performance improvement meetings but claimed he wasn't warned of threat of dismissal

This instalment of You Make the Call features an employee who complained of unjust dismissal after being fired for poor performance.

Jeffrey McMaster worked for Big Freight Systems, a trucking company based in Steinbach, Man. When he started with the company in March 2006, it was happy with his performance as a driver recruiter and he received letters of commendation. He was also promoted to be the leader of Big Freight’s driver recruitment development team.

However, by 2009, the company’s benchmarks increased and it cut staff. McMaster’s job performance deteriorated and he was replaced as the leader of the team, though he claimed he was told it was due to restructuring. Another manager took over and met with McMaster on a weekly basis to give feedback and clarify his objectives.

Big Freight had specific standards of conduct and performance for employees and a corrective discipline policy that included an oral warning, written warning, probation and then termination. Supervisors decided on which initial corrective action was required depending on the seriousness of the problem and the employee’s record.

After the restructuring, McMaster admitted he was not fully engaged nor meeting benchmarks and said he wanted to improve. However, in July 2009, his manager met with him because he was not following through on his performance improvement objectives. She told McMaster if he didn’t improve there would have to be changes made in the department. McMaster said he had the resources he needed and would work at improving, but the manager noted he responded to the feedback with “blank stares or a smirk.”

The manager continued to meet with McMaster weekly and usually got the same response. She got the impression he knew the consequences and he was waiting it out until the end. A co-worker also expressed concerns that he was not putting in a full effort, which was making it more difficult for the team to meet benchmarks.

On Sept. 29, 2009, McMaster acknowledged he hadn’t completed required actions, despite understanding what was expected of him. The manager advised him there would be consequences “this time” since there had been no progress on what had been discussed in the weekly meetings. The next day, Big Freight terminated his employment.

McMaster filed a complaint of unjust dismissal, arguing Big Freight didn’t follow its progressive discipline policy by giving him sufficient warning his job was in danger. Big

Freight countered that it had given him plenty of notice and tried to work with him to improve, but it was left with no choice but to dismiss him.

You Make the Call

Was McMaster unjustly dismissed?
Was his failure to improve despite coaching cause for dismissal?

If you said McMaster was unjustly dismissed, you’re right. The adjudicator found McMaster had regular meetings with his manager about what was needed to meet his performance improvement objectives, but all the discussions were verbal. At no time was McMaster provided with a written warning, which was part of Big Freight’s formal discipline policy.

The adjudicator also found McMaster wasn’t told his employment was at risk, only that a lack of improvement “would result in changes within the department.”

“Whether or not Mr. McMaster knew or should have known that failure to improve his performance would result in his dismissal, I see nothing in the evidence that obviates the provision in the employer’s manual that he would receive a written warning if poor performance continued following an oral warning. On the evidence, I find that he did not receive a written warning,” said the adjudicator.

Because Big Freight didn’t follow its corrective discipline policy and didn’t give McMaster proper warning, the adjudicator ruled he was unjustly dismissed. McMaster didn’t request reinstatement, so Big Freight was ordered to pay him four weeks’ pay, equal to $3,788.46. See McMaster v. Big Freight Systems Inc., 2010 CarswellNat 4631 (Can. Arb. Bd.).

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