Betrayal of Trust by Freight Handler Warrants Termination

Persistent denials in the face of allegations about his involvement in workplace hijinks resulted in termination for a worker at a courier service. While the union conceded that discipline was warranted, it argued that termination was an excessive response.

K.I. had nine years of service and was acting as lead hand at his employer’s Halifax airport outlet sorting and shipping freight and courier packages.

On the day in question, two colleagues reported observing another employee getting laughs by parading around the workplace while wearing the head from one of the Olympic mascot costumes that had come through the terminal en route to a promotional event.

While there was a dispute about whether or not K.I. was seen either opening the custom mascot case prior to the stunt or was observed closing it up afterwards, there was no dispute that he had witnessed the prank and had not reported it.

Mishandling of freight

Where almost everyone at the depot had kept quiet about the events, for their part, the two witnesses felt compelled to report the incident because such mishandling of freight was illegal and a clear violation of company policy.

K.I. was interviewed three times over the course of the ensuing investigation into the incident. In the first interview he denied seeing anything untoward. In the second interview he denied seeing any mascots or assisting anyone in packing them up.

Informed after the second interview that the prankster had come clean and that they both were to be terminated, K.I. admitted that he had helped repack the head after the stunt but continued to deny that he had been the one to initially open the trunk.

Whether or not he was the one to open the trunk did not matter so much, the Arbitrator said. K.I. had an obligation to report the incident and he did not. Instead, K.I. had made a decision to “sweep it under the rug and hope no one found out,” the Arbitrator said.

Altruistic motive

While he clung to his story and relied on “plausible deniability,” he did not count on fellow employees reporting the incident or the prankster himself confessing. The fact that K.I. maintained his story until deniability was no longer plausible showed that he was prepared to lie, the Arbitrator said. “Whether there was an altruistic element or the motive was purely self interest, is a finding I need not make at this moment. The fact is that [K.I.] was prepared to lie in order to avoid what he regarded as a negative consequence.”

Ultimately, the Arbitrator found on a balance of probabilities that K.I. had mishandled the cargo.

Consequences of cover-up

However, the Arbitrator said, “The mishandling of the cargo was not the only misdeed alleged against him as grounds for dismissal. On the facts, it is hard to believe that this would have been fatal to his chances of keeping his job. He was also terminated for having failed to report the incident and for having lied in the investigation. In employment, as in politics, the consequences of the cover-up are often worse than those that might have flowed from the original misdeed.”

Discipline was warranted the Arbitrator said. The only question was whether or not there were sufficient mitigating factors present to substitute the penalty of termination. There were not.

Canvassing the various established lists of mitigating factors and the case law underlining the signal importance of trust in the courier business, the Arbitrator ruled that termination was appropriate.

Horseplay rather than dishonesty

There were mitigating factor such as K.I.’s lengthy service and the fact that the incident was more in the nature of horseplay rather than dishonesty. However, K.I. had failed to live up to his employer’s pledge to customers to protect the freight in its care against all forms of intrusion.

“More serious was the grievor’s failure to report the incident to management and his outright attempt to deny that anything had occurred … His choice to deny that anything at all had happened, and to conceal his role in it, were premeditated acts which in the result betrayed the faith that this Employer must have in its employees … it was then that he forfeited any right to continue in this employment relationship,” the Arbitrator said.

The grievance was dismissed.

Reference: Purolator Courier Services and Canada Council of Teamsters, Local 927. Eric K. Slone — Sole Arbitrator. Ron Pizzo for the Union and Peter McLellan for the Employer. June 10, 2010. 23 pp.

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