Icy manager not given opportunity to warm up

Dairy Queen manager told she had four weeks to improve behaviour but was fired the next day

A Dairy Queen manager who was fired for poor treatment of staff and poor behaviour should have been given a chance to mend her ways, the British Columbia Supreme Court has ruled.

Sharon Rodrigues, 47, was the manager of a Dairy Queen outlet in Castlegar, B.C. She started at the restaurant in 1993 and worked for four different owners over a 16-year period. When the most recent owner took over in 2007, he relied heavily on Rodrigues as another manager left. Rodrigues looked after the day-to-day business at the restaurant, which led to a permanent position as manager.

Rodrigues was entitled to monthly bonuses if the restaurant met certain targets. After her promotion, she agreed to forego the bonus in 2009 in exchange for consideration of a wage increase.

In early 2009, Rodrigues returned to work on a graduated work program after an injury caused her to take several months off. She was back full-time by February, but staff noticed a change in her attitude. She was often in a bad mood and made derogatory comments to staff. Some felt she didn’t want to work there anymore.

In June 2009, employees complained to the owner about Rodrigues’ behaviour. The accounts of her insults and vulgar language concerned the owner, so he drew up a probation letter that stated her “actions and words have done damage to this business and have greatly hurt staff morale.” It listed swearing, rudeness, insubordination, disrespect, anger, tardiness and retaliation and said she would be on probation for four weeks. Her behaviour would then be reviewed and if it didn’t improve, she would be terminated.

The owner gave the letter to Rodrigues when she came to work on June 24, 2009. She was shocked and felt the accusations weren’t true. She declined the owner’s offer to discuss it, so he left. Rodrigues eventually left work still upset. She returned the next day but refused to speak to other employees. Later that day, the owner arrived and when he heard of the way Rodrigues was handling the situation, he decided to terminate her employment immediately for insubordination, as he felt her behaviour showed she had no intention to improve.

The court found Dairy Queen couldn’t rely on Rodrigues’ past behaviour as just cause for dismissal because she had acted the same way for months without any warnings. The June 24 letter was the first she knew of the problem and it caught her off-guard. She was also not given the chance to improve, which the letter specifically stated she would. In addition, the owner left her to deal with the awkward situation herself.

The court found reasonable notice was 16 months plus six months of bonuses she should have received since her raise didn’t happen, totalling $50,425. Minus earnings she had in another job over that period of time, the value of the notice was $25,725.50. See Rodrigues v. Shendon Enterprises Ltd., 2010 CarswellBC 1754 (B.C. S.C.).

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