Employee who took company property should have been suspended, not fired: Board

Employee caught taking lumber said he thought it was scrap

An Ontario company was too harsh when it fired an employee for taking some of its property he thought was scrap, the Ontario Arbitration Board has ruled.

Cleveland Range Ltd., a manufacturer and exporter of commercial cooking equipment in Concord, Ont., had been losing between $10,000 and $20,000 from theft of company property such as tools, supplies, scrap metal and wood by January 2007. It had a company rule that stipulated theft or attempted theft of company property is grounds for “immediate discharge.” New employees receive a copy of the rules as part of their orientation. In addition, it sent a letter to each employee saying anyone caught stealing would face “disciplinary action including termination” and criminal charges would be laid.

A 50-year-old employee worked as a stock receiver, often without supervision due to the size of the warehouse. He had no problems for almost two years he spent employed with Cleveland Range. Part of his job was to build skids with two-by-four boards the company bought in large amounts. The boards were stamped with a code that allowed Cleveland Range and the supplier to trace them if needed. The company also had a large container at the warehouse for recycling scrap lumber.

On April 24, 2007, a supervisor told the plant manager there was a minivan parked outside the warehouse with some two-by-four boards inside. The manager recognized the van as belonging to the employee, so they tracked him down and asked to see the wood. The employee agreed and when he opened the van, the manager recognized the stamps on the boards that identified them as part of the company’s new stock.

The employee claimed he saw the boards lying with other scrap waiting to be thrown out. He decided he could use them and figured there wouldn’t be any harm in taking them, since they were headed to the garbage. During his afternoon break he drove his minivan around to the warehouse and loaded the boards into it. He didn’t try to hide what he was doing and he pointed out to the board it was in full view of other employees.

When he realized he’d made a mistake, the employee apologized to the manager and said he didn’t know he’d done anything wrong. The manager informed him the proper procedure to take scrap was to ask permission first.

Cleveland Range considered theft as “one of those industrial offences which can justify discharge for a first occurrence.” The next day, April 25, the company fired the employee for theft.

The board acknowledged the employee’s actions were inappropriate, contravened the employer’s rules and warranted discipline. However, given his intentions and the fact he owned up to it, it found termination was too harsh.

“We have a short-term employee with a good employment record who has been honest and forthright with the company from the moment he was confronted,” the board said. It found he never tried to hide his actions and didn’t think he was doing anything wrong. After it was brought to his attention, he tried to remedy the situation.

The board reinstated the employee without compensation but with his seniority restored and ordered his termination to be replaced with a six-month suspension without pay.

“He made a mistake. There is nothing to indicate that he could not correct that mistake if given another chance,” the board said. “To deter him from making such a mistake in the future a long suspension with the knowledge that he could lose his job if he repeated the conduct should be sufficient.” See Cleveland Range Ltd. v. U.S.W., Local 5338-13, 2007 CarswellOnt 7911 (Ont. Arb. Bd.).

Latest stories