Insubordination plus past suspensions equals just cause

Bus driver had a history of suspensions for insubordination and taking a bus without permission was the last straw

The Ontario Arbitration Board has upheld the firing of an Ottawa bus driver for backing up a bus without guidance and his poor disciplinary record.

Frank Pugliese was a bus driver for OC Transpo, the public transit service in Ottawa. On Jan. 18, 2007, Pugliese was driving on an express route when he discovered his windshield washer wasn’t working. He was given a bus change and directed to start his route at the beginning, though it he was now running late. Pugliese didn’t want to start the route from the beginning because he was worried about a personal commitment he had at the end of his shift. When told to start the route at the beginning, Pugliese replied, “That won’t be happening.”

Pugliese’s supervisor told him he could start the route late if necessary and keep track of when he finished, but Pugliese said he would instead cut into the route part of the way through so he could catch up. The supervisor told him to go to a station where an on-road supervisor would relieve him of his duties for insubordination. Pugliese asked if he would be given a ride back to the garage and was told no. Pugliese replied, “That’s what I need to hear, thank you.” He then got into his bus, backed it up without a spotter or authorization, and drove the bus to the garage.

OC Transpo took Pugliese’s acts of insubordination seriously and referred to an incident in July 2006 when he had been suspended for 20 days. After the suspension, Pugliese was subject to specific conditions that any harassment, intimidation, physical violence or verbal insults towards other employees or clients would result in the termination of his employment. He had also been suspended for insubordination on other occasions. OC Transpo decided his latest insubordination along with his disciplinary history warranted termination.

The board found OC Transpo’s request to start his route late and charge any extra time it took was reasonable and Pugliese’s conduct was “wilful, confrontational and disrespectful insubordination.” It also noted Pugliese didn’t make any reference to his personal commitment after his shift, but simply refused to obey his directions. In addition, taking a bus and driving it back to the garage without authorization was not justified by OC Transpo’s refusal to give him a ride back, said the board.

The board said it would consider reinstatement with an unpaid suspension based on his service and an apology. However, given his history of insubordination and discipline — particularly the conditions of employment stemming from his previous suspension — the board found termination was warranted.

“A 20-day suspension on an employee’s record evidences serious prior misconduct that lays the groundwork for termination as the next step in the chain of progressive discipline, especially if, as here, the suspension was recently imposed and the subsequent misconduct is serious,” said the board. See Ottawa (City) v. A.T.U., Local 279, 2010 CarswellOnt 2456 (Ont. Arb. Bd.).

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