Ontario worker fired for working while awaiting COVID-19 test results

Employee should have been ready to self-isolate: Arbitrator

Ontario worker fired for working  while awaiting COVID-19 test results

An Ontario worker’s firing for failing to self-isolate while waiting for a COVID-19 test has been upheld by an arbitrator.

The worker was employed by Garda Security Screening at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport. She was provided with Garda’s code of ethics, which she acknowledged reading and understanding.

In late March 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic in full swing, Garda informed all of its employees about guidelines established by the Public Health Agency of Canada. The guidelines required employees to self-isolate if they had been tested for COVID-19 and were waiting for the results.

On April 6, the worker had a headache that she believed was due to a sinus issue. She visited her doctor. However, she called her doctor back later and the doctor recommended that she get tested for COVID-19 since she was working at the airport.

On April 12, the worker informed Garda that she had tested positive for COVID-19. She said she hadn’t worked on her last three scheduled days of work while waiting for the test — April 6, 7, and 8 — and Garda placed her on a leave of absence.

However, while Garda investigated to determine who had been in close proximity to the worker before she tested positive, it discovered that the worker had in fact reported for work on April 6 after she had been tested. When the worker returned to work on April 23, she acknowledged that she had worked that day because she hadn’t felt sick and hadn’t informed Garda that she had taken the test. She also said she hadn’t been aware of the requirement to self-isolate.

Garda didn’t accept that the worker didn’t know what was expected of her and showed her a bulletin that included the requirement to self-isolate while waiting for test results. The worker admitted she had seen the bulletin.

Garda determined that the worker had breached its rules and public health guidelines, putting the health of her coworkers, other airport workers, and members of the public who travelled through the airport at risk when she worked while waiting for her test results.

It terminated the worker’s employment the same day, April 23, and the union grieved the termination.

The arbitrator found that the worker’s claim that she felt fine and didn’t know that she should have self-isolated while waiting for the test results wasn’t credible. The worker called her doctor back after her appointment and the only reason for this would have been that she still wasn’t feeling well.

In addition, the doctor recommended that she get tested because she worked at the airport. The worker should have realized this meant she should act cautiously because of the sensitivity of her workplace to potentially spreading the virus, said the arbitrator.

The arbitrator also found that the worker knew of the necessity to self-isolate. In addition to guidelines at work, the pandemic was “the number one item in the news and the number one item being talked about generally from at least the beginning of March,” making it practically impossible for the worker to be unaware of the consequences of spreading the virus if she was infected, said the arbitrator.

“It is hard to believe that anyone was not aware of the expectations from public health in Ontario and Canada about what to do after having been tested,” the arbitrator said. “But, even if the [worker] had not been so generally aware, she and her coworkers had been specifically made aware of what to do by the guidelines issued by the employer which were brought to the attention of all employees.”

The arbitrator determined that the worker clearly violated Garda’s and public health guidelines and put “countless others at risk of illness or death.” The grievance was dismissed.

Reference: Garda Security Screening v. IAM, District 140. M. Brian Keller — arbitrator. Stephan Prabhu, Harrison Le for employer. Keith Aiken, Tayeb Lharti for employee. July 2, 2020. [2020] O.L.A.A. No. 162

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