B.C. forklift driver unfairly lumped in with discipline for bullying coworker

Worker later expressed remorse for comments

B.C. forklift driver unfairly lumped in  with discipline for bullying coworker

A British Columbia arbitrator has reduced the suspension of a worker who was involved in an incident where bullying comments were made about and to a colleague.

Chris Klapatiuk was a warehouse forklift driver for Cariboo Pulp and Paper, a paper mill in Quesnel, B.C., since 2009. On Aug. 22, 2019, a female coworker told Klapatiuk to “hot load” pulp that was stacked flat in sheets onto rail cars because Cariboo’s shipping was behind schedule. “Hot load” meant that the pulp was moved directly from the production line to rail cars without storing it first.

Klapatiuk didn’t want to do a hot load and told the coworker it was difficult, as they would have to put the pulp down, pick it up from the other side, and then load two rail cars. The coworker said that the quality control supervisor — who was also female — wanted it shipped and Klapatiuk responded by commenting “that bitch.”

About one hour later, the quality control supervisor

found both Klapatiuk and another driver in the warehouse. Klapatiuk said “We can’t f---ing hot load” the pulp and that it was “too much.” He didn’t raise his voice but he had a frustrated tone.

The supervisor said that if it was too much, they could put the pulp on the floor and load the rail car from there instead of directly from the production line, but the other driver said it was too much work for one day. Klapatiuk told he supervisor, “No offence… but you don’t f---ing know how to do the job.” The other driver became agitated and swore, and Klapatiuk tried to smooth things over by saying “It’s OK… we’re just frustrated.”

The supervisor reported the exchange to Cariboo management, saying that both drivers sounded frustrated but the other driver yelled and used profanity. Afterwards, she was upset and said she had to hold back tears. She went home after her boss told her she didn’t have to be at work when she was treated like that.

The fibre line manager learned of the incident and assigned the shift supervisor to investigate. The shift supervisor met with both drivers. Klapatiuk admitted to using the work “bitch” in reference to the supervisor when talking to the coworker but said the supervisor didn’t understand how loading rail cars worked. He said he was willing to apologize and felt sorry for how things happened, though he didn’t feel responsible for what the other driver said and he felt that it wasn’t “that big a deal.” He also said he may have used profanity but it wasn’t directed at the supervisor and he had tried to de-escalate the situation.

On Aug. 30, Cariboo suspended Klapatiuk for 3.5 days without pay for violating the company’s bullying and harassment policy. The other driver received the same suspension.

The union grieved the suspension, arguing that it was an excessive amount of discipline.

The arbitrator found that some of Klapatiuk’s language and tone that he used towards the supervisor and coworker was bullying behaviour, but Klapatiuk showed “appropriate insight into the nature and gravity of his misconduct” during the investigative interview. He didn’t try to hide his misconduct as he admitted what he said.

The arbitrator also found that Klapatiuk tried to de-escalate the situation and spoke to the supervisor with “self-control and awareness that the exchange was hurtful” while the other driver acted more aggressively, and he expressed remorse and a willingness to apologize afterwards. However, Cariboo didn’t distinguish between Klapatiuk’s behaviour and that of the other driver.

The arbitrator set aside the 3.5-day suspension and substituted a one-day suspension in its place, adding that such a suspension should be enough to make the point that “a repeat of this behaviour will carry much more serious consequences.”

Reference: Cariboo Pulp and Paper and Unifor, Local 1115. Arne Peltz — arbitrator. Don Jordan, for employer. Craig Bavis for employee. July 13, 2020. 2020 CarswellBC 2282

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