Manager fired for ‘fundamental’ mistakes

Inability to do job trumped giving manager a chance to improve

A Manitoba company could dismiss a manager for failing to meet expectations despite the fact it had not formally notified him of its dissatisfaction, the Canada Arbitration Board has ruled.

Hallcon Crew Transport, a Toronto-based transportation company that moved workers to job sites, hired Gordon Fredrick to be the manager of its Winnipeg office in June 2007. Fredrick was on probation for six months and he understood that if it didn’t work out, Hallcon would offer him his old job of dispatch supervisor back, though Hallcon denied it agreed to that. If things did go well, he would receive a $5,000 bonus.

Fredrick started in his new position in August 2007 and received the bonus in November. At the company’s holiday party, Hallcon’s CEO told Fredrick’s wife the company was happy with him.

However, Hallcon was concerned with some issues with Fredrick’s performance but didn’t inform him of them because it wanted to give him time to develop and improve in the position. One concern involved issues raised by a dispatcher that Fredrick simply passed on to Hallcon management rather than addressing them himself. Another was his lack of organizing meetings with supervisors. Meetings were supposed to be held monthly, but Fredrick held one in September 2007 and none after that.

Hallcon management adopted a wait-and-see attitude, but things got worse when Fredrick paid holiday pay to employees early, which was a direct contradiction of a Hallcon directive. Frederick was also not filing formal reports on the business despite Hallcon’s repeated requests to do so.

On Jan. 22, 2008, employees who worked under Fredrick gave him a letter listing their complaints and stating they were considering stopping work. For Hallcon, this was a serious threat because the company relied on one major customer and the withdrawal of services would significantly harm its business. However, Fredrick didn’t treat the threat seriously or with priority.

Fredrick’s handling of the employee threat to withdraw services was the last straw for Hallcon. Its concerns had been building for a few months and though it felt it gave him time to improve, he didn’t. Having lost confidence in Fredrick’s ability to do the job, Hallcon fired him.

Fredrick contested the dismissal, saying Hallcon had never informed him of its concerns or reprimanded him and as far as he knew, he was doing a good job.

The board found it was unlikely Fredrick was completely unaware of his performance issues, given the poor employee morale, Hallcon’s requests for reports and his defiance of a company directive. Even though there was no formal progressive discipline, Fredrick knew what his responsibilities were and had received communication from upper management on what it expected of him.

The board also found the issues raised in the employee letter were fundamental to Hallcon’s business and Fredrick’s failure to treat them with urgency caused Hallcon to lose all confidence in him. Without that confidence, Hallcon couldn’t be expected to allow Fredrick to remain in the position. As a result, dismissal was the appropriate solution to the problem. See Fredrick v. Hallcon Crew Transport Inc., 2009 CarswellNat 3492 (Can. Arb. Bd.).

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