Clerk didn’t take part in employer’s accommodation efforts
An arbitrator has upheld the suspensions of an Ontario-based Canada Post worker for refusing to take off her ring while working with mechanized equipment.
The worker was a postal clerk for Canada Post with no discipline during her 30 years of service. She worked at the VISTA mail processing facility near Toronto Pearson International Airport, sorting international inbound mail. She often worked alongside Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers who inspected the mail.
The facility had large, mechanized conveyor belts, so Canada Post had policies prohibiting loose gloves, flowing clothing, rings or any other loose jewelry, and neckties due to the risk of getting caught in the belts. Long hair had to be tied back or tucked securely into clothing.
In August 2018, a new manager came to the facility and she wanted to increase safety by tightening enforcement, so she announced that the rules would be enforced. Previously, employees were allowed to wear rings under their work gloves, but under the new enforcement no rings were allowed. A job hazard analysis confirmed that wearing rings had the potential for serious injury if caught in machinery or entangled in conveyor belts.
There was one exception to the rules — employees of the Sikh faith were permitted to wear a silver bracelet that was an obligation of observant Sikhs. However, they had to wear it further up the arm while working rather than the customary way of loose around the wrist.
CBSA officers often didn’t follow the safety rules and wore rings and watches, despite the fact that they worked on the same machinery. Canada Post managers didn’t have the authority to make them comply.
On Dec. 14, 2018, the manager told the worker that several of her coworkers had complained about her conduct, including not removing her ring while on the work floor. The manager asked the worker to remove her ring before returning to work, but the worker refused, saying it had religious significance — it was an engagement ring that had been blessed by her parish priest — and she had it taped under her glove.
The worker was called into a second meeting about 15 minutes later, where she was given an emergency suspension and told she could either complete a religious accommodation form or take off the ring while working. The worker refused — she felt the form was intrusive and said the ring was “a symbol of our commitment to each other” and was “blessed.” Canada Post suspended her for the remainder of her shift.
On each of the next four work days, the worker was asked to remove her ring when she arrived. Each time she refused and was suspended for the day. Finally, on Dec. 21, Canada Post suspended her indefinitely for refusing to obey clear orders based on legitimate safety rules.
The union argued that the worker had been singled out and the ring ban wasn’t reasonable or consistently enforced.
The arbitrator found that the collective agreement put an obligation on Canada Post “to prevent and correct any situation” that could endanger employee health and safety. Since wearing jewelry while working on mechanized equipment posed a risk, the rule prohibiting rings while working was reasonable and consistent with the collective agreement, said the arbitrator.
The arbitrator also found that employees were informed of the rule and the worker was given multiple opportunities to take off the ring before being suspended. The rule was clear and the worker was notified of the consequences of her failure to comply, said the arbitrator.
In addition, the worker refused to complete an accommodation form or accept management’s suggestions of wearing the ring on a chain under her clothes or putting it in her pocket. As a result, she didn’t participate in the employer’s efforts to accommodate, said the arbitrator in upholding the suspensions.
Reference: Canada Post and CUPW. Allen Ponak — arbitrator. Stephen Williams for employer. Sharon Paris for employee. Nov. 2, 2020. 2020 CarswellNat 4673