Saskatoon bus driver who smelled of alcohol dismissed

Agreement did not deprive probationary worker from grievance process

Stewart Read, a probationary transit driver employed by the City of Saskatoon, was sent home and promptly fired after showing up for a shift smelling of alcohol — a decision upheld by an arbitrator.

Read reported late for a shift in the summer of 2009 and his supervisor observed his eyes were glassy and he smelled of alcohol.

Read was deemed unfit to drive a bus and was immediately sent home. The city then concluded he was an unsuitable employee and terminated him.

His union, the Amalgamated Transit Union’s Local 615 chapter, grieved the dismissal.

Because Read's employment status was well within the nine-month probationary period, as set out in the collective agreement, the city felt termination was justified.

Moreover, the grievor did not have a clean record. That spring, Read was suspended for five days without pay when he failed to properly secure the bus he was driving. The offence was a serious one, his manager said, as there had been a previous fatality when a bus was not secured, and thus a disciplinary policy came into effect.

The union did not grieve the suspension.

Read testified he was not drunk or impaired but rather he had had a few drinks at the bar with some friends the night before.

He said he overslept and rushed to work, without brushing his teeth or combing his hair.

The reason his eyes appeared glossy, Read said, was because by the time he reported for duty, he had only been awake 13 minutes.

When told to go home by his supervisor, Read complied, saying he was a new employee and did not know whether to defend himself or go home.

The union, however, argued that in this particular contract, there was no distinction between probationary and regular employees and, accordingly, there should not be the lesser standard of "unsuitability" for termination of probationary employees.

For instance, unlike other agreements, this one did not deprive probationary workers from the grievance process, among other rights typically held for full-time employees.

Arbitrator makes decision

In making his decision, arbitrator William Hood said the test for termination of a probationary employee in this case is not the more rigorous standard of "just cause" but rather the lesser standard of "suitability."

Hood rejected the union’s argument, saying that because the collective agreement does not speak directly to the standard of proof does not necessarily mean the standard is the same for all employees.

While it is always open for both parties to contract otherwise, when an agreement is made regarding the probationary period for new hires, the review standard during the probation period is suitability, not just cause. And, in this case, the termination was reasonable.

As such, the grievance was dismissed.

Reference: City of Saskatoon and the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 615. William Hood — arbitrator. Jon Danyliw for the employer, Gary Bainbridge for the union. June 16, 2015.

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