Double shift leads to sleepy worker

Employer didn't normally allow double shifts but worker responded to last-minute request to cover overnight duties

This edition of You Make the Call features a worker who was fired for sleeping on the job.

Kareem Watson was a youth services worker at a Toronto shelter called Eva’s Satellite Shelter, which provided crisis intervention service to homeless youth between the ages of 16 and 24. He had four years of service with Eva’s, with the first three as a relief worker and one as a permanent full-time youth services worker.

The shelter had a policy that sleeping on the job was serious misconduct and warranted dismissal, and working back-to-back shifts wasn’t permitted since youth services workers were responsible for the health and safety of the youth using the shelter and they had to be aware and alert at all times during their shift. The clients of Eva’s were particularly high-risk because they were banned from other shelters due to their substance abuse or behaviour. A large proportion had mental health issues.

If a worker was unable to come in for a scheduled shift, proper procedure was to call the shelter and speak to a relief or youth services worker. The worker receiving the call would then start phoning other relief workers until someone was found who can take the shift. If no relief workers were available, a temporary help agency would be called to supply someone.

On March 6, 2014, there was a mandatory training session for shelter employees during the day. The two workers who normally worked the overnight shift were at the training, so the housing supervisor told them they weren’t scheduled to work that night and he would arrange for relief coverage. However, he had only arranged for coverage the previous night and not that night.

The supervisor realized at 5 p.m. there was nobody to cover the overnight shift starting at 11 p.m. and told the staff to call around for relief workers. He also told the group of workers — including Watson — “I totally forgot to get it covered can you cover two shifts tonight,” before leaving.

Most of the other workers were on their way out except for Watson — who was working the 3:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. shift — and another worker who was being replaced at 6 p.m.

Watson continued to work and, when no one showed up for the scheduled shift at 11 p.m., concluded there must have been an error. He and the relief worker who started at 6 p.m. were both scheduled to leave at 11:30, so he called the on-call supervisor at 11:14 and offered to work a double shift. The on-call supervisor asked him if he was sure, to which he replied in the affirmative, so she approved it.

At 6:43 a.m., a motion-activated video camera recorded Watson — who was almost 18 hours into his double shift at the
time — entering an office, shutting the door, turning the lights off and sitting in a chair with his feet up. The camera then shut off and was activated again at 7:22 a.m. when Watson got up out of the chair and answered the door after a resident knocked on it.

On March 17, shelter residents complained that staff in general weren’t available enough. Eva’s management looked at the videotapes and observed Watson’s nap from the morning of March 7. An investigative meeting was held and it was determined Watson was “sleeping/in a restful state for approximately 30 minutes” and also had watched some television during the shift. Watson admitted that “sometimes the front desk is unattended and you sometimes do not do floor checks.”

Eva’s terminated Watson’s employment for sleeping at work and not fulfilling his duties, which were extremely serious examples of misconduct, considering the risk to residents and the lack of supervision workers had on the job, especially on the overnight shift. The shelter also claimed Watson lied in order to get the double shift, giving the on-call supervisor the impression he had called for relief workers before offering to work the double.

You Make the Call

Was there just cause for dismissal?
Should Watson have been given another chance?

IF YOU SAID Watson should have been given another chance, you’re right. The arbitrator found Watson was guilty of serious misconduct. No matter how tired he was by the end of his double shift, it was irresponsible to isolate himself in the office and create conditions which would likely cause him to fall asleep after so many hours at work.

However, the arbitrator considered the fact Watson had four years of service without previous discipline and the misconduct was the result of “an extremely long shift result from a scheduling error that was no fault of his own as opposed to a flagrant disregard for his employment responsibilities.”

The arbitrator ordered Eva’s to reinstate Watson with a 10-day suspension on his record instead of a discharge,

“While (Watson’s) conduct might be described as ‘intentional’ it was brought about by circumstances that were unusual and ought not, especially in light of this proceeding, to reoccur,” said the arbitrator. See Eva’s Initiatives and CUPE, Local 4358-02 (Watson), Re, 2015 CarswellOnt 6317 (Ont. Arb.).

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