Trucking company cleans out driver

Driver assumed being told to clean out his truck meant he was fired; employer thought he quit by cleaning out his truck

This instalment of You Make the Call involves a dispute over whether a truck driver quit his job or was fired.

Peter Jansen was a truck driver for Pacific Central Carriers, a trucking company based in Abbotsford, B.C., that transports heavy equipment. Employed with the company since 2000, Jansen at times didn’t get along with the dispatcher. The two had various altercations, including an occasion where the dispatcher told Jansen he always messed up and another when the dispatcher threatened to punch him. Jansen had complained about the threat but Pacific showed little sympathy.

On Nov. 9, 2007, the dispatcher told Jansen to take some equipment to Calgary, unload it, drive the empty truck to Paris, Ont., and pick up some more equipment on Nov. 19 to bring back to British Columbia.

After Jansen went to Calgary, the dispatcher told him there would be a delay and the equipment in Ontario would be ready a day later, on Nov. 20. Jansen said the delay was a problem because he had some personal business to take care of when he got back to B.C and he’d have to think about it. According to Jansen, the dispatcher became angry and told him he could either go to Ontario or return the truck to the yard in Abbotsford to clean it out. Jansen took this to be an ultimatum that he had to go to Ontario or he would be fired, since drivers used the same truck for all jobs — Jansen had driven his for two years — and cleaning it out meant they were done working for the company.

The dispatcher called Jansen the next day to find out where he was and Jansen told him he was heading east from Calgary. The dispatcher told him to take the trailer to another driver in Edmonton and return the truck to the yard.

When Jansen didn’t immediately return the truck, the dispatcher contacted him and was told Jansen had taken it home to clean it up. Pacific took this to be a resignation. When Jansen returned the truck later that day accompanied by his cousin, Pacific’s owner told the cousin there had been disagreements for too long and “it was time we parted ways.”

On Nov. 19, 2007, Pacific sent Jansen a letter with his paycheque that stated the company understood he had resigned.

You Make the Call

Was Jansen fired for refusing to drive to Ontario?
Did he quit by taking the truck home to clean it out?

If you said Jansen was fired, you’re right. The board found in the trucking industry, telling a driver to clean out his truck meant he was fired. Since the dispatcher told him to do that if he didn’t go to Ontario, it was reasonable for Jansen to assume he was given an ultimatum.

The board found Pacific had other drivers available to make the trip to Ontario and the dispatcher’s reaction when Jansen advised him of the difficulty the delay would cause was the result of their rocky history and the dispatcher’s displeasure at Jansen for not following his instructions. Though Pacific denied telling Jansen to clean out his truck, it admitted he was told to return it to the yard and the board found Jansen’s account to be more reliable. The fact Jansen took the truck home first to clean it out rather than simply returning it lent credence to his claim he believed he had been fired, especially since the dispatcher didn’t question why he was cleaning it out at home when he called Jansen to find out why he didn’t immediately return it, the board said.

In addition, the board found Jansen had never expressly and directly told Pacific he intended to quit. It said Pacific gave him an ultimatum to either go to Ontario or lose his job and Jansen understood he would be fired if he didn’t make the trip.

“Even if Mr. Jansen had somehow communicated an intention to quit or resign in the telephone conversation, he regretted it and (the next day) the employer knew he was on his way to Ontario,” the board said. “In Mr. Jansen’s view, being told to ‘clean out your truck’ was equivalent to being told ‘you’re gone,’ i.e. you’re fired.” See Jansen v. Pacific Central Carriers Ltd., 2008 CarswellNat 5557 (Can. Arb. Bd.).

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