Employer breaks link after chain of misconduct

Employee had 11 years of good service but repeated misuse of company resources and time led to firing

This instalment of You Make the Call features a long-term employee who was fired after several incidents of misconduct.

Dorin Plotogea, 46, joined Cambridge, Ont.-based Heartland Appliances on a college job placement in 1993. He was later hired on full-time by Heartland and in August 2003 he was promoted to the position of senior design engineer. Plotogea was considered a solid, productive senior employee who was expected to mentor and supervise other employees in the engineering department.

In early 2000, a routine check of Plotogea’s computer revealed he had been accessing Internet pornography on his work computer. He was warned not to access such material at work but later was caught again. Plotogea initially denied the charge and said it was someone else. Heartland, concerned about possible criminal and ethical issues as well as computer viruses, terminated Plotogea.

Plotogea admitted he had accessed the pornographic sites and he sincerely regretted it. He agreed to return to work with his Internet access cut off.

In April 2002, Plotogea went to a tradeshow where he left the group and missed a meeting. He was given a “notice of disciplinary warning” that said his absences were unacceptable and “any further actions of defiance will result in further disciplinary action.”

In December 2003, Heartland discovered Plotogea had been using his company computer during work hours to design house plans. He was told he could use the computer for personal reasons outside of working hours but doing so during normal business hours was unacceptable. However, a few months later, in April 2004, he was still doing it. A check of his computer log showed he had spent 60 hours during normal working time on the plans. He was told to make up the time.

In July 2004, Heartland shut down operations for two weeks. Plotogea was given the responsibility of ensuring new parts delivered from a supplier were properly prepared and ready when production started up again. During the two weeks, he confirmed everything was fine and ready to go.

However, when the time came to begin production again, the parts weren’t ready. The director indicated he had “completely lost faith in Plotogea’s ability to handle the project properly.” Because of this problem and his previous incidents, Heartland decided to terminate Plotogea on Sept. 13, 2004, with two weeks’ pay as a severance.
You make the call

Was summary termination appropriate given Plotogea’s conduct and past discipline?
Was summary termination too harsh under the circumstances for an employee with Plotogea’s service?

If you said summary termination was too harsh, you’re right. The court found, with the exception of the disciplinary incidents, Plotogea had given 11 years of “exemplary” service to Heartland. The court agreed a reasonable employee should have known his misconduct would be unacceptable to an employer, but found none of the incidents individually nor together justified termination without notice.

The court felt a chain of such acts of misconduct or negligence could very well show a developing problem which might warrant dismissal, but in such a case working notice would be more appropriate. Given his strong performance in his job for several years, the court felt giving him notice wouldn’t damage the working relationship to the point where Plotogea couldn’t continue until a set termination date.

“Heartland may well have felt they had cause to terminate Mr. Plotogea’s employment, but they did not have cause to terminate such employment without notice or appropriate compensation in lieu thereof,” the court said.

The court determined nine months minus the two weeks’ severance was appropriate notice.

For more information see:

Plotogea v. Heartland Appliances Inc., 2007 CarswellOnt 4369 (Ont. S.C.J.).

Latest stories