Worker’s suspension for denigrating co-worker reduced

Canada Post worker didn’t accept responsibility but management didn’t try to reduce tension

Worker’s suspension for denigrating co-worker reduced

An arbitrator has reduced the four-day suspension of a Canada Post worker who swore multiple times at a co-worker after days of tension in the workplace.

The worker — who had 30 years of service  — was employed with Canada Post at its mail processing plant in Halifax. In June 2014, she was on a graduated return to work program that allowed her to return to her regular hours after some time off work. Her job involved loading and unloading containers of mail on and off trucks at the loading dock with forklifts, as well as weighing and documenting the loads. 

Most of the time, multiple forklifts were in operation doing this task in close quarters, so the employees involved had to be aware of what was going on and co-operate with each other due to the potential hazards.

On June 19, 2014, another employee who was operating a forklift near the worker had a verbal altercation with her when his forklift came too close to hers. 

According to this employee, the worker said in a loud voice, “What’s wrong with you, you’re a f---ing a-----e.” She pulled ahead of him in her forklift and then slowed down, blocking his way. When they were both unloading the same vehicle, she also told him to “get off my truck.”  

He claimed the worker had been treating him in an “unpleasant and discriminatory” way for days as she didn’t seem to act this way towards other forklift drivers and he hadn’t experienced this kind of treatment from anyone else at the mail processing plant.

The supervisor of distribution heard the altercation and heard the worker say, “Get him the f--- away from me.” Other employees nearby also heard the worker call the other employee a “f---ing a-----e” but didn’t hear the other employee say anything.

Afterwards, the worker came over to two of her co-workers and said, “I’m sorry if that made you uncomfortable but he’s an a-----e and has been doing that all week.”

The worker’s direct supervisor consulted with other supervisors and determined that due to the severe nature of the altercation, the fact tension between the two had been escalating, and the other employee claimed she had been singling him out and complaining that he was telling her to do her job, they would give the worker an emergency paid suspension for the remainder of her shift — which was on a Thursday — and her next shift.

When the supervisors met with the worker to issue the suspension — slated to last for three days — the worker denied saying the words that were reported or making the statement to her co-workers afterwards. She kept saying that the other employee shouldn’t have been helping her and it had been happening for several days. 

The worker had complained to management and CUPW about the other employee infringing on her work and the other employee had contacted Canada Post’s human rights representatives. She then accused them of suspending her because she was a woman and refused to sign the suspension form.

The worker returned to work the following Monday and she was interviewed on the Tuesday. 

The worker’s supervisor told her the production process was managed by the supervisor and she was to follow the supervisor’s instructions. 

If she had a problem, she was to use the established grievance process, not resort to inappropriate conduct in the workplace, he said.

Because the worker showed no acceptance of responsibility for her actions, she denied using unacceptable language towards the other employee, and she tried to lay the blame on others — as well as the fact she had two previous disciplinary letters on her record — Canada Post suspended her for three days without pay, from June 30 to July 3.

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) grieved the suspension, arguing the worker’s statements — which she finally admitted to saying — weren’t threatening and were “the kind of thing which gets said in the workplace without comment or disciplinary response.” 

The union also argued that the worker was disciplined twice with the emergency suspension and then the final three-day suspension. 

Finally, CUPW also said the three-day suspension was excessive because it spanned the July 1 holiday and cost her statutory holiday pay and was actually for four days.

Arbitrator Bruce Archibald  noted that the insulting phrase the worker used towards the other employee implied an accusation of inappropriate, dysfunctional or offensive behaviour and was not “in accordance with (the employer’s efforts to foster a respectful workplace.”

“It is indeed not the kind of language that can be tolerated in a modern workplace such as this. Nor is it the kind of action that can be justified by the (worker) by virtue of her frustration with, anger at or fear of (the other employee),” Archibald said. 

“Thus, the answer to the question of whether the (worker’s) behaviour ‘matters’ is clearly ‘yes’ — this is culpable misconduct which is properly subject to corrective discipline under (the collective agreement).”

Archibald disagreed with CUPW that the worker was disciplined twice, as the emergency suspension was administrative in nature and the worker was paid. Only the second suspension was disciplinary.

As for the length of the suspension, Archibald agreed that it was too harsh. 

Even though her use of offensive language was “serious and unjustifiable,” Archibald found management was aware of the escalating tension and did nothing. 

He determined two days was more appropriate. 

“The situation cried out for a management intervention which was more than picking sides, telling people to stay away from one another (in close quarters where that was a counsel of impossibility), or telling adult people with apparently serious concerns about one another to ‘not act like children’ (even if they were),” said Achibald in ordering Canada Post to compensate the worker for two days’ wages.

For more information see:
Canada Post Corp. and CUPW (Snow), Re, 2016 CarswellNat 3216 (Can. Arb.).

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