Worker wiped out of a job over wiper blade

Worker borrowed wiper blade from a bus on a rainy night then said he forgot about it

This instalment of You Make the Call features a maintenance worker who was fired for stealing a windshield wiper blade off a bus.

Keston Simpson was a maintenance worker for the Ontario municipality of Peel Region, starting in April 2009. He worked various shifts at a facility that maintained Peel’s vehicles, such as buses, mostly unsupervised. He had one verbal warning in December 2009 regarding performance issues but no other discipline.

On Feb. 8, 2010, Simpson’s supervisor noticed a wiper blade on the passenger side of Simpson’s car was the same type used on Peel’s accessibility buses. It stood out because the blades were part of a special order purchased on a trial basis a few months earlier. The blades could only be purchased through Peel’s supplier.

The supervisor and the manager of accessible transportation checked the serial number on the blade and found it matched those from Peel’s batch. They summoned Simpson to a meeting on March 4, 2010, to address the suspicion that he had stolen the blade.

With representatives from the union and HR present, they asked Simpson if he had taken any Peel property for his personal use. Simpson replied that he had not. They asked him if he had removed wiper blades from any buses for his own use and Simpson again replied in the negative.

When told the wiper blades on his vehicle were the same as the ones used on Peel’s accessible buses, Simpson said he bought his at a local auto parts store. When the manager pointed out the serial numbers matched Peel’s supply, Simpson explained he specifically remembered buying the blades at Canadian Tire.

The manager asked Simpson if he was being truthful because if he wasn’t, it would be more serious. Simpson continued to insist he didn’t take anything.

After the meeting, Simpson met privately with the union representative and returned to meet with management. He apologized and admitted he had taken the blade off a spare bus while working a night shift. He explained his blade broke and it was too late to buy a new one. It was a rainy night and he needed a wiper blade to get home safely, said Simpson. He later testified he gave his car to his girlfriend shortly after and forgot about the wiper blade. He insisted he didn’t mean to lie but had just forgotten. He claimed that when he spoke to the union representative after the meeting, he remembered.

Peel management felt the theft was a violation of its rules and its trust, which was particularly damaging because Simpson worked with expensive equipment and little supervision. This was compounded by his failure to tell the truth when asked about it, particularly his detailed description of buy the blade elsewhere. On March 5, 2010, Simpson’s employment was terminated.

You Make the Call

Was Simpson’s conduct just cause for dismissal?
Was dismissal too harsh?

If you said Simpson’s conduct was just cause for dismissal, you’re right. The arbitrator found there was no doubt Simpson took the wiper blade and his actions were inconsistent with his explanation. The fact he didn’t leave a message for his supervisor that he took the blade for emergency purposes nor return it the next day didn’t show an intent to borrow it, said the arbitrator. Forgetting about it and then continuing to forget about it while being directly questioned, even about the serial numbers, was suspicious. His insistence that he had bought the blade and wavering between where he bought it led the arbitrator to find Simpson had stolen the blade.

The arbitrator found the collective agreement stipulated the penalty for “theft or removal of property” from Peel’s premises without permission was discharge. Since this penalty was imposed by the collective agreement agreed to by both Peel and the union, the arbitrator found there was no basis to alter the penalty. See Peel (Region) v. C.U.P.E., Local 966, 2011 CarswellOnt 1366 (Ont. Arb. Bd.).

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