Employee’s denial of spying on coworker not credible
A British Columbia worker got into hot water for spying on a coworker in a washroom, but it was her dishonesty about the incident that really flushed her employment down the toilet.
Rossdown Natural Foods is a poultry processing and retail business in Abbotsford, B.C. On June 12, 2019, a Rossdown employee reported to the HR department that another employee, Jiwanjot Sobat, had invaded her privacy in the employee washroom.
The employee was in the washroom during her lunch break due to “stomach issues.” At one point, she looked up and saw Sobat looking down on her from the next stall, recording a video with her cellphone.
The employee said Sobat was friends with her sister-in-law and was spying on her so she could report her to her sister-in-law. The HR coordinator noted that the employee appeared “shaken up, scared, in tears, very disturbed.”
Another worker who checked and replenished washroom supplies also reported to her supervisor that she had seen Sobat in the washroom standing on the toilet with her shoes removed and her cellphone in her hand “as though making a video.” The washroom worker asked Sobat what she was doing, to which Sobat responded with a “Be quiet” gesture and a finger to her lips. Sobat and the other employee came out of their stalls at the same time and the other employee accused Sobat of following her.
The washroom worker also claimed that afterwards, Sobat came up to her and said, “If anyone asks you about what happened, just deny it.”
The alleged spying victim didn’t come to work over the next two days. When Rossdown contacted her to find out why, the employee said she was so disturbed by the washroom incident that “she wanted nothing more to do with us.”
Sobat denied everything, including knowing the other employee’s sister-in-law. She said she went into the washroom while talking to a friend on her cellphone but didn’t climb onto the toilet seat or spy on her coworker. She said she heard coughing and asked the coworker if she was fine, to which the coworker accused her of talking to the sister-in-law and making a video of her from the top of the stall.
However, the HR coordinator didn’t believe this, given how the other employee had reacted and the good reputation of the washroom employee. The employer decided to terminate Sobat’s employment, effective June 24, for “invading a coworker’s privacy while using the washroom.”
The union argued dismissal was excessive for a first offence of an employee in her fourth year of service. It also argued that the other employee was fully dressed, “the mere fact of looking into another stall does not constitute an invasion of privacy,” and the incident was spur-of-the-moment.
The arbitrator found that Sobat’s denial of wrongdoing wasn’t credible given several factors: the other employee’s “state of upset” when she reported it, the account of the washroom worker — who was known as an honest employee with no reason to lie and reported the incident as soon as possible — and the consistency and timing of the accounts of the victim and the washroom worker.
The arbitrator noted that Sobat initially denied knowing her accuser’s sister-in-law, but in her testimony admitted that she had worked for Rossdown in the past. At that point, she said she “did not have much to do with her” but then agreed she knew her “reasonably well.”
The arbitrator also found there was no distinction between the privacy rights of a clothed person and one not fully dressed, particularly in a washroom stall when having “stomach issues.”
The arbitrator determined that Sobat was guilty of serious misconduct. Her dishonesty in trying to cover it up — including trying to get another employee to be dishonest about it — justified dismissal.
Reference: Rossdown Natural Foods Ltd. and UFCW, Local 1518 (Sobat). Joanie McEwan – arbitrator. Oct. 2, 2019. Keith Murray, Anastasia Fairfield for employer. Chris Buchanan for employee. 2019 CarswellBC 2975