Cherry bomb blows up worker’s job

Worker used firecrackers in gas station parking lot following shift

This instalment of You Make the Call features a gas station employee who set off a firecracker at his workplace.

Andrew Allen, 20, was a pump attendant at a gas station run by the Saskatoon Co-Operative Association. The gas station had sixteen gas pumps connected to eight underground holding tanks containing gasoline and diesel fuel, as well as a large propane stack containing liquefied propane gas. When Allen was hired in 2012, he received orientation and training, including health and safety training which he acknowledged understanding with his signature.

Allen was given a written warning for being late to work in November 2013, another written warning for missing a shift in March 2014, and a two-week suspension for leaving early in May 2014. Shortly after returning from the suspension in June, he received an unsatisfactory performance review indicating his performance needed improvement. Another review was scheduled for October to see if he improved over the next few months.

On July 7, 2014, Allen worked a shift that ended at 8 p.m. At the end of the shift, he asked his two co-workers where he could buy firecrackers as the Canada Day fireworks he had seen a week earlier had peaked his interest. They told him about another gas station that sold firecrackers, so Allen went there and bought four cherry bombs and some sparklers.

Allen returned to the Saskatoon Co-op gas station to show his co-workers. One of them — who was working as the pump attendant — suggested they light the cherry bombs in the parking lot behind the gas bar, so they went to the lot about 90 feet from the propane tank. Allen put the cherry bomb in a cup with cat litter, lit the fuse, and ran back to the store — while filming himself with his cellphone. When the firecracker went off, Allen was surprised at how loud it was and realized he shouldn’t have done it.

The next day, the other co-worker who had been the evening manager reported the activities from the previous night. The manager met with Allen on July 9 and Allen admitted to setting off the firecracker. He apologized and offered to show the video he had taken on his phone. The manager declined, as she had video of the incident from the gas station’s surveillance cameras, though she appreciated the apology.

The manager prepared an employee discipline report for the Saskatoon Co-op human resources department, acknowledging that Allen admitted to and apologized for his actions but noting he had “been on a downward slide for the past few months” regarding his previous instances of misconduct leading to discipline. Though Allen had said nobody else had been involved, the video surveillance revealed the co-worker’s participation.

It was determined Allen was guilty of serious misconduct by setting off an explosive near fuel tanks. On Aug. 5, 2014, the company terminated Allen’s employment for “lack of judgment, gross negligence, illegal act and blatant disregard to safety and the Co-operative’s assets.” At the termination meeting, Allen didn’t apologize or show remorse, as he felt he had already done so. The co-worker who was with Allen was also terminated, but was reinstated after serving a six-month suspension.

The union grieved the dismissal, saying Allen’s misconduct wasn’t excessively dangerous as it was just a cherry bomb and it was some distance from the pumps and tanks. Additionally, Allen accepted responsibility for his misconduct, said the union.

You Make the Call

Should the employee be reinstated and given another chance?


Did the employer have just cause for dismissal?

IF YOU SAID the employer had just cause for dismissal, you’re right. The arbitration board found there was a potential for damage to company property and the two employees, but no actual damage or injury happened. The extent of any potential damage was “conjecture” and had no definite proof, said the board.

The board found the cherry bomb firecracker didn’t have the same risk as a larger explosive and was some distance away — 90 feet — from the tanks. This was well outside the distance —7.5 metres, which was less than 25 feet — where no smoking was permitted. As a result, the danger of Allen’s misconduct was exaggerated by the Saskatoon Co-op, said the board.

However, the board agreed Allen’s misconduct was serious because “it is reckless to set off a firecracker at a gas bar” no matter how far away from the pumps and tanks it was. The optics of the incident were bad and the company had to react to what Allen himself acknowledged was “stupid.” The board also noted the misconduct occurred shortly after his performance review indicated he needed improvement.

Given Allen’s relatively short service time and record of previous discipline combined with his poor performance review, the board found Saskatoon Co-op had just cause to dismiss Allen.

“The firecracker incident was certainly not a step in the right direction for (Allen) to take if he intended to show any real effort to improve his performance and retain his job,” said the board.

For more information see:

Saskatoon Co-Operative Assn. Ltd. and UFCW, Local 1400 (Allen), Re, 2015 CarswellSask 463 (Sask. Arb.).

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