Worker’s naughty gallery too much for employer

Worker had several pictures of nude and scantily clad women in his work area, as well as a poster of Karla Homolka

This instalment of You Make the Call features a maintenance worker who was fired for having offensive materials in his office area.

John Quaiser, 59, was a carpenter for the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ont. Over 19 years, Quaiser worked at various locations on campus repairing buildings and furniture. In January 2006, he was assigned to a student residence where he had worked previously.

Quaiser’s work area was a small office behind a locked door. Students did not have access to the area, though Quaiser often propped the door open or taped over the lock when he was moving materials. On one occasion, he complained to the residence assistant manager when she closed the door after he had propped it open. Quaiser told the assistant manager “something was going to happen around here.” Quaiser was given a written warning for not following instructions to keep doors locked and making a threatening statement to a staff member. The warning stated that a failure to improve could lead to more discipline, up to and including dismissal.

On Sept. 20, 2007, Quaiser went off work because of high blood pressure. During his absence, a supervisor went into his work area and found several items he felt were objectionable. There was a large cut-out of Michael Jordan in the hallway with the words “stop or I’ll shoot” and in his office area were photographs of women, some of them in various states of undress. There were also several photographs of Karla Homolka with written comments and the heading “Karla’s Cove.”

University officials told Quaiser it was inappropriate to have those materials displayed in a student residence or anywhere on campus. He was placed on paid suspension for one week while the university investigated the matter.

Quaiser said the materials were “just a joke,” and were there to liven up the work area. He said the Homolka photos were a condemnation of her and argued employees posted similar materials in work areas at other locations on campus He also claimed the Jordan cutout and a photo of a topless woman were already in the work area when he started there.

On Oct. 10, 2007, the university decided the seriousness of the posted material and the failure of Quaiser to recognize how inappropriate it was made it difficult to trust him. It decided to terminate his employment because it felt he had “irrevocably broken the trust that must exist with any employment relationship.” The university also felt Quaiser had violated its policy against harassment, which prohibited public display of “offensive pictures, cartoons, graffiti or other materials that others could find offensive.”

You make the call

Was the suspension followed by termination an appropriate response to the inappropriate materials in a work area?
Were the university’s actions too harsh?

If you said termination was too harsh, you’re right. The arbitrator agreed many of the graphic materials were inappropriate for a workplace setting and other employees should not have to be exposed to them. It could be considered a public area and therefore he violated the collective agreement anti-harassment provisions. However, the arbitrator found Quaiser had been allowed to post material in other campus locations without discipline. This made it unfair to fire him without previous warnings for this type of misconduct.

The arbitrator also found Quaiser later recognized how the material could offend some people. As a result, it was unlikely he would display inappropriate material at work again.

The university was ordered to reinstate Quaiser without loss of seniority. In recognition of the seriousness of the Karla Homolka material and the university’s concern over it, as well as Quaiser’s failure to acknowledge the inappropriateness of his actions, the arbitrator didn’t award any compensation for lost income. See University of Waterloo v. C.U.P.E., Local 793, 2009 CarswellOnt 5798 (Ont. Arb. Bd.).

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