Gun drawing in suggestion box worth suspension, not dismissal

Employee claimed she didn't know what co-worker drew on paper before she put it in suggestion box but witnesses said she glanced at drawing

An Ontario employee who placed a threatening message in a company suggestion box was deserving of discipline but shouldn’t have been fired, an arbitrator has ruled. The employee was an encapsulation operator for Accucaps Industries, a pharmaceutical drug manufacturer in Windsor, Ont. She worked for the company for for nine years and had a discipline-free record.

In February 2008, an agreement between Accucaps and the union on impending layoffs was causing discontent among many employees. On Feb. 23, the employee took a break with two co-workers, one of whom had a safety tip form. The form was available for employees to make suggestions on improving safety procedures in the workplace. However, the co-worker had written as the safety tip, “Follow the contract you might save someone from going postal one day!” In the space for a sketch, he had drawn a person pointing a gun at another person. As the employee left at the end of the break to go back to work, the co-worker asked her to put the form in the health and safety suggestion box, which she did.

The next day the employee went to the chair of the health and safety committee and told him what she had put in the suggestion box. She said she had been unaware of its contents when she put it in but it wasn’t meant seriously and should be thrown away. The chair thew it in the garbage, but later had second thoughts and brought it to the attention of management. Since the atmosphere at the plant was charged due to the layoff agreement, management took the threat seriously and notified the police.

On Feb. 27, 2008, the employee was interviewed and admitted to putting the form in the box but denied knowing what was on it. She said the co-worker had told her later what he had drawn on the form and it was at that time she decided to tell management. However, other witnesses claimed she was there before the paper was folded and she saw what was on it.

Accucaps felt the employee did know what was on the sheet when she put it in the box. Because of her participation in “a serious threat to the safety and well being of other employees and management staff,” the employee was suspended indefinitely and then terminated.

The arbitrator found even if the employee didn’t know the entire contents of the form, she had to have seen the drawing and knew enough that it could be seen as a threat, given the tense environment around the workplace at the time. In fact, the co-worker who created the form was criminally charged with uttering a threat. She was also not forthright with her knowledge and didn’t seem to appreciate the seriousness of her actions. This was just cause for discipline, the arbitrator said.

However, the arbitrator believed the employee didn’t consider it a threat when she put it in the box and she did bring it to management’s attention herself. She was also a long-term employee with no previous discipline. Therefore, the arbitrator found termination was too harsh.

The arbitrator ordered Accucaps to reinstate the employee as of Oct. 1, 2008, with the six months from her date of termination serving as an unpaid suspension. She would also accrue no seniority for the suspension period and would be required to take, for a second time, Accucaps’ violence in the workplace course. See Accucaps Industries Limited v. C.A.W., Local 195 (Aug. 27, 2008), Gail Brent — Arb. (Ont. Arb. Bd.).

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