Employee gets smoked for buying dope at work

Bank employee who worked with customer information purchased marijuana from a co-worker at the office

This instalment of You Make the Call looks at a bank employee who was fired after purchasing marijuana in the office from a co-worker.

A technical support analyst at the Bank of Nova Scotia’s electronic banking contact centre in Toronto had been with the bank since January 1999 and received positive performance reviews without any disciplinary problems. Because the centre works with customer information, it is housed in a secure, unmarked building and employees must wear a badge at all times. There are no customers at the site.

However, in October 2005, the employee bought one-eighth of an ounce of marijuana at a co-worker’s workstation during business hours. Soon after, the bank investigated reports of employees at the centre buying drugs on-site. When identified as one of 11 employees who had done so, the employee admitted to his actions, expressed regret and said it had been for his brother, who was having personal problems.

The bank’s guidelines for business conduct instructs employees to “follow the law wherever the bank does business.” The employee signed off on these guidelines every year, indicating he understood them and a breach could result in disciplinary action up to and including termination.

The bank considered the employee’s actions a serious breach of its guidelines, especially since drugs are often linked to money-laundering and it wanted to distance itself as much as possible from any association with that activity. On Oct. 21, 2005, the employee was suspended for “irregularities in the workplace” pending the completion of the investigation and on Nov. 10 he was terminated for cause along with the other 10 employees found to have been involved in the selling and purchasing of marijuana onsite. The bank said drugs on its premises risked its reputation and security and the seriousness of the misconduct made rehabilitation unlikely, since it “went to his character.”

The employee claimed wrongful dismissal, saying termination was disproportionate to the misconduct considering the small amount involved, the fact it wasn’t for him and he had a good disciplinary record.
You Make the Call

Did the Bank of Nova Scotia have just cause to terminate the employee for buying marijuana at the office?
Was termination too severe for the misconduct?

If you said termination was too severe, you’re correct. The arbitrator agreed the employee’s conduct was a serious breach of bank guidelines that “is clearly deserving of a strong response.” However, it found lesser discipline was more appropriate.

The arbitrator found the purchase didn’t happen where the public had access and thus the public didn’t have any knowledge of it. The investigation was internal and no information got out, so the bank’s reputation wasn’t harmed.

He also determined there was no threat to security since the employee didn’t use the drug on-site and it wasn’t even for his own use. As a result, the marijuana purchase didn’t have a direct connection to his work or the bank’s business other than the time it took place. The arbitrator also questioned the bank’s assertion the employee couldn’t be rehabilitated. He noted the bank didn’t assess his potential for rehabilitation and poor “character” judgment can still be rehabilitated, particularly since he owned up to his actions and expressed regret. The bank made a blanket decision to fire all employees involved rather than take into account their individual circumstances.

“It is not clear how the bank came to the conclusion that the employee could not be rehabilitated,” the arbitrator said. “While the purchase of marijuana at work is a serious lapse of judgment, the conduct alone certainly does not preclude the possibility that one might never engage in that conduct again.”

The arbitrator found the misconduct was not serious enough to warrant just cause and ordered the bank to pay him six months’ wages, totalling $36,300. See Soplet v. Bank of Nova Scotia, 2007 CarswellNat 1035 (Can. Arb. Bd.).

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