Worker fired during probation not given mentoring or coaching

Training, supervision mandated by agreement

Worker fired during probation not given mentoring or coaching

A Nova Scotia arbitrator has reinstated a worker fired during her probation because she received insufficient training and supervision.

The Halifax Regional Municipality hired the worker in 2018 to be an assistant building official (ABO) in its planning and development business unit. ABOs shadow building officials (BOs) and learn how to conduct inspections of residential and commercial properties, eventually performing them under the mentorship of BOs. If things go well, ABOs can conduct certain inspections on their own. The core competencies for ABOs are conflict management, communication, stress management and teamwork.

The worker was subject to a six-month probationary period. The collective agreement stipulated that during the probationary period, “the employee may be dismissed if the employee has not performed to the work standards established by the employer.” It also had a clause stating that “the employer shall not discipline or dismiss an employee except for just cause.”

On the worker’s first day, the division manager sent an introductory email that incorrectly stated her educational background. The worker said in the presence of a few other employees: “Who is this guy?” and “He’s got it all wrong.” A supervisor was shocked since the ABO position required tact. The worker’s supervisor said that her comments were inappropriate as they could be taken as being negative.

On July 19, 2018, the worker sent an email about late inspection applications and two employees who were responsible for assigning files took it as a veiled criticism. The worker’s supervisor coached her on teamwork and relationship building, and the worker apologized to the employees.

Two months later, a BO condensed some inspection files and asked the worker to put away the folders, but the worker replied: “I don’t clean up anyone’s mess.” Her supervisor stressed the importance of working with her colleagues and not taking things personally. The worker apologized to the BO.

Soon after, a BO received a complaint about the worker’s “unprofessional and heavy-handed” manner when inspecting a pool. The worker had left an order to put up a fence within 24 hours and she said she didn’t intend to cause offence but it was a safety issue. The supervisor told the worker to be professional and to “be nice when delivering bad news” to a property owner.

In October, the worker investigated a complaint about a rental unit. The landlord indicated that he would resolve the issues shortly, but when the worker returned for a second inspection she found that several things hadn’t been addressed. The landlord considered them to be minor and they ended up arguing with raised voices. The worker reported to her supervisor that the owner had started yelling at her and she had gotten upset and left.

At an information meeting, the worker acknowledged that she could have handled the situation differently. Management told her that her employment may be in jeopardy and they would review the incident and their previous concerns.

On Nov. 7, the municipality terminated the worker’s employment because she had “not demonstrated the behaviours required by the employer in the performance of your duties.” The union argued there wasn’t just cause as required by the collective agreement.

The arbitrator noted that the employer’s authority to terminate a probationary employee depended on appropriate supervision and reasonable standards. It appeared that the worker received minimal training and coaching — the worker performed the pool and apartment inspections on her own only a few months after she started and she only received a few coaching sessions about her communication. 

“Neither [training or supervision] appeared to me to be adequate or appropriate to the training of an employee performing a job that the employer itself recognized was difficult,” said the arbitrator.

The municipality was ordered to reinstate the worker with compensation for loss of pay and benefits.

Reference: NSUPE, Local 13 and Halifax (Regional Municipality). Augustus Richardson —  arbitrator. Andrew Gough for employer. Nancy Elliot for employee. Aug. 10, 2020. 2020 CarswellNS 489

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