Abusive assistant manager was given ample opportunity to change ways, court rules

Grocery store assistant manager continued to use offensive language and mistreat employees after being warned by management

A GROCERY STORE in Cobble Hill, B.C., had just cause to fire one of its assistant managers for his treatment of store workers, according to the British Columbia Supreme Court.

Cory Neen was well-regarded by his employer as a hard worker in his duties of overseeing the operation of certain departments in the grocery store. He was also responsible for training and supervising the staff of his departments, which consisted mostly of teenagers and young adults.

In 2002, the store surveyed employees to investigate low staff morale and the resulting high turnover. It discovered the management style and attitude of Neen was a large reason for the poor morale.

Further investigation revealed Neen often spoke to staff in vulgar and insulting ways, harassed female employees, changed staff schedules and made derogatory remarks about management. All of these activities were against the store’s zero-tolerance harassment policy.

Store management told Neen in early December 2002 he needed to treat employees with more respect and not to undermine management’s authority. When he asked for specific names and details, management told him if they did so, they would have to launch an investigation which would likely result in his dismissal because of the zero-tolerance policy. Neen relented and the store asked him to take a management course, adding if he treated the employees poorly again he might be fired.

In April 2003, Neen completed the course and received a positive performance evaluation. However, in April 2004, an employee quit because of Neen’s treatment of him and other employees. The former employee wrote a letter describing the same type of actions as before Neen’s warning as well as a racial slur. Management interviewed several employees and discovered Neen’s management style had not changed. He was fired on April 28, 2004.

The court found the store was justified in firing Neen. It accepted the reasoning that the resignation and letter were not the reason for the termination, but it was the last straw. Management had warned him his behaviour was against store policy and it could result in his termination. It also worked with him to change his ways. However, continuing his old ways was “misconduct which constituted a breach of the (store’s) harassment policy for which (Neen) had been given a reasonable opportunity to rectify.”

The store’s careful documentation of its warnings and attempts to help Neen improve his management style showed he was well aware of his situation and given a chance to save his employment. When he continued to treat staff poorly, not only did he continue to breach the store’s harassment policy, he failed to live up to the obligations of his job. “Developing and maintaining a positive work environment for the employees under his supervision was an essential requirement of (Neen’s) employment,” the court said. “The nature and the degree of his misconduct went to the root of that employment and constituted a permanent fracture in that relationship.” See Neen v. Cobble Hill Grocery Ltd., 2006 BCSC 1494 (B.C. S.C.).

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