Edmonton Safeway baker terminated after fall causing injury not believed

Dishonesty cited in dismissal letter given to employee

After a series of incidents that included a fall in the parking lot, an incorrectly cooked batch of banana bread and various late check-ins, a baker at an Edmonton Safeway store was fired.
Garry Neufeld had worked for Safeway for 16 years and for three years at the Westmount location in Edmonton. During a stretch of time between October 2014 and January 2016, Neufeld was late several times and incurred four discipline notices, after which he was transferred to the Jasper Gates location on Jan. 10.
On Jan. 7, he was asked to make 60 loaves of banana bread for a special store promotion. Neufeld baked the bread but because he used frozen eggs instead of thawed ones, the batch had to be destroyed.
On Jan. 9, Neufeld was scheduled to begin his shift at 5:30 a.m., but he didn’t show up on time. Later that morning, baker Reynaldo Yu met Neufeld in the changeroom. Neufeld told Yu that he was late because he fell in the parking lot.
However, no snow was seen on Neufeld’s clothes that day, testified Yu. Other employees also said they had seen Neufeld at work that day but there was no snow on his clothing and he didn’t exhibit any limping. 
On Jan. 10, Neufeld showed up early for his 8 a.m. shift and advised Kirby Pardely, assistant manager at the Jasper Gates location, that he couldn’t work his shift that day. Neufeld also booked off Jan. 11.
In a meeting on Jan. 15 to discuss the recent string of lateness and absences, Neufeld gave conflicting stories to explain his actions. 
During a Jan. 29 termination meeting, Neufeld produced medical information that said he suffered from depression, although the details were scant. Nonetheless, he was terminated. The letter cited his alleged dishonesty as one of the reasons for dismissal.
Store video footage of the parking lot did not show Neufeld falling in the parking lot, said the employer.
The union, the United Food and Commercial Workers Canada (UFCW), Local 401, grieved and asked for $40,000 in damages, in addition to Neufeld being reinstated.
Neufeld suffered from depression and mental-health illnesses dating back to 2015, when he was homeless for a time. As well, he also worked at a restaurant at that time, which may have contributed negatively to his general health, said UFCW.
When Neufeld fell, union representative Rick Schneider said he hit his head which may have contributed to his cognition. Neufeld was easily confused and forgot dates, said Schneider.
On Dec. 21, 2015, Neufeld fell in the parking lot on his way into work, he testified. He was diagnosed with a swollen ankle from the fall and he didn’t remember any details of it because he blacked out, said Neufeld. He also fell on his way to work on Jan. 9,  2016 said the union.
As well, he didn’t remember much about the day that the banana bread was ruined.
Arbitrator David Tettensor upheld the grievance and ordered him reinstated but without the monetary damages awarded. 
“I am prepared to give (Neufeld) the benefit of the doubt and conclude that some of his inconsistent statements were the result of some confusion and not intentional. That said, I also conclude that at times (Neufeld) was careless with the truth. His testimony about his recollection of mixing the banana bread is a stark example of this. A significant factor in the decision to terminate (Neufeld) was the conclusion that (Neufeld) was not truthful about falling on Jan. 9, 2016. The evidence shows (Neufeld) was truthful about this.”
Some of the blame for his performance could be given to Neufeld’s second job, said Tettensor. 
“Working until midnight at the Olive Garden and then starting a shift at Safeway at 4 a.m. could be a reasonable and logical explanation for (Neufeld) being late, absent or wanting to leave a shift early. Even though he had done this for some years, it would not be surprising that this would catch up with him; we all lose stamina and the capacity to work long hours as we age, and working as much as 16 hours per day would be difficult for anyone.”
Reference: Sobeys Safeway Operations and United Food and Commercial Workers Canada, Local 401. David Tettensor — arbitrator. Feb. 18, 2019. 2019 CarswellAlta 593

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