Welder suspended after abandoning work station

Employee knew absence was unauthorized: Arbitrator

Louis Smith, a welder for Kubota Materials Canada, received a one-day suspension after leaving his work station without authorization.

The Orillia, Ont.-based company designated specific times for workplace breaks. The morning break time was, and continues to be, 9:00 a.m. The break is 10 minutes long and is announced by a facility-wide siren.

On April 24, 2013, Smith was working the day shift. At 8:44 a.m., he left his work station and went to the cafeteria, 16 minutes before the designated break time.

Smith, who had been working for the employer for nearly a decade, testified he did not know what time it was when he left his work station but admitted he knew it wasn’t the designated break time.

Smith also conceded that he knew that he was not authorized to leave his work station at that time.

Smith testified that he walked the short distance from his work station to the cafeteria. Shortly after entering the cafeteria, Smith saw his supervisor approaching. The welder turned to leave, in an effort to "avoid hassles" with the supervisor.

As Smith was leaving the cafeteria, the supervisor met him at the door. The supervisor took down Smith’s name, asked him his purpose for being in the cafeteria and left.

Ultimately, Smith said, he was in the cafeteria for only a few minutes.

On April 25, Smith was issued a one-day suspension. Smith’s union — the United Steelworkers (USW) Local 9393 — filed a grievance on his behalf, arguing the suspension was excessive.

The union acknowledged there was just cause for some discipline, but argued mitigating factors should be taken into consideration.

Smith was a reasonably senior employee, the union argued, with no discipline on his record either before or after the discipline in question.

According to the employer, however, early breaks and showers had been a consistent problem at the plant since the introduction of designated break times in 2011.

For a time, the employer issued written warnings when employees took unauthorized breaks but ultimately it found the warnings had no effect.

Eventually, the employer began issuing one-day suspensions.

Considering the ongoing nature of the problem, the employer argued its consistent approach to the abuse of break time was reasonable.

While the specific circumstances of each case matter and there may be instances where a one-day suspension is unreasonable, arbitrator Jesse Nyman found Kubota was justified in its discipline in Smith’s case.

"Smith’s evidence and actions demonstrate that he was well aware that he was not supposed to be in the cafeteria, yet he decided to leave his work station and go there anyway," Nyman said.

"First, he agreed under oath that he knew it was not break time. Second, he knew he was not supposed to be away from his work station without authorization.

"Third, when he saw his supervisor, he tried to leave the cafeteria because he wanted to avoid a hassle… the only way to interpret these facts is that Mr. Smith knew what he was doing was wrong and knew that it would lead to discipline."

Because Smith knew what he did was wrong and simply chose to run the risk that he would not be caught, Nyman dismissed the grievance.

Reference: Kubota Materials Canada Corporation and the United Steelworkers (USW) Local 9393. Jesse M. Nyman — arbitrator. David. L.W. Francis for the employer, Sean Logan for the union. Dec. 6 2014.

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