Love letter leads to letter of termination

Employee should have known letter would lead to trouble: Arbitrator

Ingrid Gervasio’s handwritten letter set off a series of events that ultimately led to her termination.

Gervasio — a registered practical nurse with the Fraser Health Authority’s Ridge Meadows Hospital and Health Care Centre in British Columbia — was fired for gross insubordination and what the employer called the effective harassment of her manager.

The letter that triggered her termination was hand-delivered to Gervasio’s direct supervisor, Ken McDonald on Feb. 23, 2011, and confessed what Gervasio called her "true feelings." She testified she and McDonald had been working closely together and she had developed romantic feelings for him.

"I am not telling you this because I want you to beg me to stay or even that I want you to confess how you feel about me," the letter read. "I’m simply telling you this because there is nothing for me to lose by me telling you how much I care about you."

McDonald testified he was shocked and "deeply disturbed" by the letter. He said he had never had any relationship with the grievor beyond the normal interaction in his role as her supervisor.

He took the letter to his manager and the human resources department and was advised to meet with Gervasio and explain that he had no interest in any relationship outside of work. He was also advised to set specific boundaries to guide all future contact with her.

Gervasio and McDonald held a meeting on Feb. 24, 2011. Their accounts of the conversation differ greatly.

McDonald accused Gervasio of attempting to force him into a relationship while Gervasio claimed McDonald was confused about his personal feelings for her.

A series of emails from Gervasio to McDonald followed the meeting. McDonald said several employees approached him regarding rumours of a relationship between himself and Gervasio.

On March 11, 2011, McDonald told her he no longer wished to receive any emails.

On March 14, Gervasio contacted management to request alternative employment. When asked about her decision to leave her current position, Gervasio referenced her personal relationship with McDonald, referring to them as "an item."

In subsequent communication with management regarding a new position, Gervasio denied the relationship and was reportedly "derogatory and insulting" in her references to McDonald.

Management met with Gervasio on March 28 to investigate her claims. She was told she would not be allowed to return to work for a three-week period and was told she could not discuss the investigation with anyone.

Following the meeting, Gervasio went back to her work area and revealed the nature of the investigation to several co-workers, calling McDonald a "backstabber," and saying he was "a liar and cannot be trusted."

Gervasio was terminated effective April 1, 2011. Gervasio’s union, the Health Sciences Association of British Columbia, grieved the dismissal, arguing the employer had no just cause for termination as no disciplinable offence occurred. The union requested Gervasio be reinstated and made whole for lost wages and benefits, as well as general damages.

The employer, however, asserted the trust and confidence necessary for the employment relationship had been irreparably damaged.

According to the employer, reinstatement should not be considered as discharge was warranted in the circumstances.

Arbitrator John P. Sanderson agreed, calling the workplace chaos that engulfed Gervasio "entirely predictable."

"She is a mature woman who should have known that such a personal letter, delivered at work to her supervisor, would be a workplace time bomb from the start," Sanderson said.

"Having delivered the initial letter and heard his reaction, she persisted in her actions at work, trying to advance what seems to have been a private obsession."

Sanderson found Gervasio’s insubordination and insolent behaviour towards management to be a serious offense, ruling the employer had just and reasonable cause to take disciplinary action.

The grievance was dismissed.

Reference: Fraser Health Authority and the Health Sciences Association of British Columbia. John P. Sanderson — Arbitrator. Erin Cutler for the employer, Tonie Beharrell for the union. July 10, 2014.

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