Unacceptable conduct

Theft of stretch wrap sufficient grounds for dismissal without notice

Neville Mutton worked as an assembler for AOT Canada Ltd., a company involved in assembling truck wheels. The assembly process was performed by 10 to 12 employees who changed position every two hours on the assembly line during a shift. The last process in the assembling was the packaging of the assembled wheels which was done by the use of a wrapper machine located at the end of the assembly line. The wrapper machine held a 50 to 60 lb. roll of stretch wrap (similar to cellophane) measuring 60 to 90 centimetres wide.

Mr. Mutton was dismissed for cause from his employment with AOT. The employer alleged that on Nov. 15, 1999, Mr. Mutton stole several feet of the stretch wrap used on the assembly line. Mr. Mutton denied the allegation of theft and brought an action against AOT for wrongful dismissal.

It was Mr. Mutton’s evidence that all he removed from company property on the day in question were some plastic bags. When rims arrived at the plant for assembly they were packaged in clear plastic bags as a type of protective covering. After the rims were removed the bags were discarded in a receptacle located at the beginning of the line. It was not an uncommon occurrence for the assembly workers to take home those bags, although AOT stated that an employee would require permission to do so.

Mr. Mutton testified that he had the permission to remove the bags. On the day in question he took approximately six bags, folded them up and took them home with him at the end of his shift. He wanted some bags to fill with sand and put them in the bed of his wife’s pick-up truck for better traction in the winter.

The evidence from a number of supervising employees at AOT differed significantly from that of Mr. Mutton. AOT alleged that Mr. Mutton removed some of the stretch wrap used at the end of the assembly line and took it home. Evidence was given that when the truck removed a stack of wrapped tires from the wrapping machine, Mr. Mutton grabbed a sheet of stretch wrap which was still part of the roll on the machine and pulled a length of approximately five to seven metres of stretch wrap from the roll. He then cut the wrap off the roll and folded it. This was done on several occasions over a 45-minute period.

The next day no action was taken although witnesses told management that they saw Mr. Mutton take stretch plastic wrap off the roll and remove it from the plant. Nothing was done so as to allow Mr. Mutton the opportunity to come forward and admit what he had done.

On Nov. 17, 1999, Mr. Mutton was asked to the office of Mr. Rocha, plant manager and team leader. Mr. Mutton was informed that witnesses had seen him cutting, folding and leaving the building with the stretch wrap. Mr. Mutton denied this and informed Mr. Rocha that he had merely taken some of the bags which he had permission to do.

After this meeting Mr. Rocha re-interviewed the various witnesses who had come forward with this allegation of theft. The witnesses maintained that it was the stretch wrap that Mr. Mutton had removed from the plant. Mr. Mutton was then called back to Mr. Rocha’s office. He continued to deny taking the stretch wrap despite what the witnesses had said. Mr. Mutton was suspended from work and sent home. Two days later he was contacted by telephone and informed that his employment was terminated because of the theft of company property.

The Court accepted the employer’s witnesses and found that Mr. Mutton had removed the stretch wrap from the plant. The Court then had to determine whether this action was sufficient to justify dismissal without notice. The question to be determined was whether the misconduct gave rise to a breakdown in the employment relationship warranting dismissal without notice.

In this case there was an employee’s handbook setting out company policies. The policy dealing with employee conduct outlined conduct considered unacceptable and which may lead to discipline up to termination of employment. At the top of the list was “theft or inappropriate removal or possession of property.” There was also a section in the handbook that dealt with self-discipline. The self-discipline approach expected each member of the team correct his unacceptable behaviour. Mr. Mutton was given the opportunity to come forward the day after the theft occurred. He failed to do so.

The Court held that AOT was justified in dismissing Mr. Mutton without notice. The action for wrongful dismissal was dismissed.

For more information:

Mutton v. AOT Canada Ltd., Ontario Superior Court of Justice, Docket No. 33267, Feb.5/02.

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