Newfoundland Power worker fired after theft of electricity, dishonesty come to light

Technician installed unmetered streetlight to benefit father

Newfoundland Power worker fired after  theft of electricity, dishonesty come to light

A Newfoundland and Labrador arbitrator has upheld the termination of an electrical worker after he hooked up an unmetered streetlight and wasn’t honest about it.

The worker was hired in 2007 as a power line technician (PLT) apprentice by Newfoundland Power, a utility providing electricity in Newfoundland and Labrador.

In 2016, he was promoted to the position of PLT lead-hand, which carried responsibility for leading crews, mentoring, coaching, providing safety leadership and overseeing work planning.

Newfoundland Power had a code of conduct requiring employees to be ethical and honest, while acting with integrity and credibility at all times. The worker was aware of the code and signed a statement confirming that he had received a copy in 2014.

In September 2018, an engineering technician for the utility noticed a streetlight installed on a customer’s pole that was connected with Newfoundland Power equipment but was unmetered. The customer who lived on the property acknowledged that she had purchased the streetlight but didn’t say from whom she had bought it or who had installed it.

On Oct. 3, the worker texted the supervisor of customer service to say that the customer wasn’t involved. The next day, the worker informed the supervisor that he had installed and connected the light to the electrical grid. He said that the previous June, he had installed a scrapped mercury vapour light he had at home as a favour to his father, who had a camper in the area. He also said there was an understanding that employees could take a scrapped light for personal use and he hadn’t charged anyone for the light fixture or the energy. He added that he had acted alone on his own time and hadn’t used company equipment.

A short time later, the worker contacted the internal audit manager and said that sometime later he had replaced the old light with a high-pressure sodium streetlight that had been on the service truck, as the old light had stopped working. This was done on company time with company equipment and a service crew.

On Nov. 6, the company informed the worker that installing the light without hooking it up to a customer meter was a breach of the code of conduct and was also a criminal act. In addition, when he replaced the light with a new one, it was theft of company property, time and resources. Newfoundland Power terminated the worker’s employment.

The union grieved the termination, arguing that Newfoundland Power did not have just cause for dismissal. Before the arbitration hearing, the worker disclosed that he hadn’t been by himself when he had installed the streetlight — he had a PLT with him and he used company equipment on company time.

The arbitrator found that the worker’s installation of the light without a meter resulted in the theft of electricity from the company for four months before it was discovered. He also initially lied about using company time and equipment to do it, and then used both a second time to replace the light with one that was company property.

The arbitrator also found that although the worker didn’t directly benefit from the installation and the unmetered electricity, he knew that his father would.

The worker’s misconduct “was a serious breach of the company’s code of conduct and business ethics policy,” said the arbitrator. The worker’s role as a lead-hand working in the field without supervision created a high standard for conduct and trust, so the worker’s actions struck at the heart of the employment relationship.

Although the worker had 11 years of service without prior discipline, the seriousness of the misconduct outweighed any mitigating factors, the arbitrator said in dismissing the grievance and upholding the dismissal.

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