Labatt had no duty to accommodate ‘slow learner’ who damaged company equipment

A company has a duty to accommodate a worker with a disability, but not if he has wilfully damaged its equipment in the past and may do so again in the future

A company has a duty to accommodate a worker with a disability, but not if he has wilfully damaged its equipment in the past and may do so again in the future, an Alberta court has ruled.

Ed Jeroski was a semi-skilled worker who had been with the Labatt Brewing Company in Edmonton for 19 years when he was terminated in June 2003.

The company said Jeroski was terminated for dishonesty, disregarding safety rules and wilfully damaging company property. Jeroski admitted he’d twice broken an air pressure gauge in the plant, jammed bottle caps into stop buttons on the equipment and had taken bulbs out of the emergency stop light and smashed them.

Perhaps his most serious transgression was placing a bottle opener inside a $2 million bottle-cleaning machine. The Alberta Arbitration Board noted it could have resulted in up to $15,000 in damage and put 40 employees out of work for a week.

When asked why he’d committed the acts, Jeroski said it might have been because he was bored. He had been stupid, was very sorry and would not do it again, he said under repeated company questioning. He insisted he did not intend to damage the equipment.

The union representing Jeroski argued the company had cause to discipline him, but that termination was too harsh given Jeroski’s personal character, his length of service, his not being motivated by malice against the company and by its commitment to progressive discipline.

Most importantly it said Jeroski had a disability that had him view incidents and explanations in a different light than most people. The company had a duty to accommodate this disability, the union said.

The board heard from two psychologists who found Jeroski was a “slow learner” with modest intellectual capacities. They agreed he was not suffering from a personality disorder or a psychiatric disorder —he knew right from wrong and he did not fit any category of mental retardation.

The board accepted Jeroski’s claim that he had not intended to damage any company equipment. It also accepted his claim that he didn’t know why he’d done what he did. He had “very little self-awareness” and “seemed genuinely unable to take his analysis any further,” it said. He appeared to be motivated by “pent-up anger and frustration” for the way people treated him on the job.

But the board said his conduct could not be excused. It might not qualify as sabotage, as he didn’t have malicious intent, but his actions were far more serious than mere horseplay. They involved acts which could have caused great damage and were a safety concern. The company’s duty to accommodate did not extend to tolerating deliberate acts of damage to equipment, particularly as Jeroski’s explanations did not speak to his future reliability and trustworthiness.

The 44-year-old Jeroski came across as amiable and genuinely remorseful. But the safety needs of the plant were too pressing and the nature of his offences too serious to justify setting aside the termination of his employment, the board said.

For more information see:

Labatt Breweries Alberta v. Brewery Workers, Local 250, 2005 CarswellAlta 1297, 138 L.A.C. (4th) 417 (Alta. Arb. Bd.)

Latest stories