‘Obey now and grieve later’ is what firefighter should have done

Constantini v. Canada (Treasury Board - Department of National Defense), 2004 CarswellNat 3024 (Can. P.S.S.R.B.). William Constantini worked as a firefighter for the Department of National Defense at CFB Halifax. In 21 years he had no blotch on his disciplinary record.

On Oct. 11, 2001, when he arrived at work for his regular shift he told his supervisor he would not be performing his regular duties and would only respond to emergencies. The supervisor inquired about his well being, as this was unusual behaviour, and re-assigned him hoping he would reconsider. Constantini refused to perform his regular duties again on Oct. 12 and Oct. 14. On Oct. 11 and Oct. 12 he was told by his supervisor he faced disciplinary action and on Oct. 14 he was given a direct order to perform his duties. He refused.

The next day, at a meeting with the acting base fire chief, the supervisor and a union representative, Constantini said he would not carry out his full duties. He was told this was unacceptable behaviour and out of character for him and was offered the services of the employee assistance program. He declined.

All this was reiterated the next day, by telephone, and Constantini was granted paid sick leave pending a medical assessment to determine his fitness for duties. At a disciplinary hearing on Oct. 19 he again stated he would refuse to carry out his full duties. He was given a one-day suspension.

He appealed, stating there had been an abuse of authority and harassment; and asked that the disciplinary action be withdrawn and the lost pay returned to him. At the hearing it was revealed Constantini had refused to perform all his duties out of frustration and disappointment after a fellow firefighter had told him he had been given the answers prior to a competition which involved a promotion. Constantini had participated in the competition process.

In ruling on Constantini's appeal the board acknowledged he must have felt cheated on hearing about the flawed competitive process. But he should have acted under the labour maxim of "obey now and grieve later," the board said.

There were other courses of action available to him, it said. He could have contacted his bargaining agent or filed a grievance or complaint. All the while, however, he should have continued to perform his duties. If psychologically he was unable to work with some of his co-workers then he should have taken leave and sought assistance from the employee assistance program.

Since Constantini had been given a direct order and many warnings that disciplinary action would result from his failing to perform his full duties, the one-day suspension was warranted, the board ruled. His grievance was denied.

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