Employee blames PTSD after being fired for theft

Bell Canada worker stole from payphone coin boxes

Bell Canada dismissed an employee for the theft and misappropriation of funds after he stole from company payphone coin boxes.

The employee, referred to as Employee B, was responsible for about 2,000 payphones in the Niagara and St. Catharines areas in Ontario. In addition to collecting funds from those payphones, he was responsible for their maintenance and repair.

In 2011, Employee B witnessed a suicide. Following the incident, he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depressive disorder. And while he struggled with these issues, the company discovered Employee B was responsible for about $3,500 of payphone receptacle shortages between February 2012 and April 2014.

The shortages were uncovered when, during a routine review of records, management discovered shortages in the receipts of Employee B’s co-worker Jim McArthur.

An investigation was conducted and video footage of the location where McArthur and Employee B deposited their payphone coin receptacles showed Employee B opening his co-worker’s collected coin receptacles and withdrawing funds.

The footage showed Employee B systematically withdrew money from his co-worker’s collection receptacle boxes over a period of time, never removing money from his own boxes.

Additionally, further investigation into Employee B’s field activities found one of the terminals he serviced had paper stuffed in the coin return. The paper could only have been placed by opening the terminal and had the effect of trapping a customer’s coins.

Confronted with the evidence, Employee B admitted to having stolen funds from the employer. He said that he had been struggling since he witnessed someone commit suicide by jumping from the Niagara Skyway into the water below in 2011.

The employer fired the employee on May 15, 2014, for the theft and misappropriation of funds. His union, Unifor, filed a grievance on his behalf.

Employee B’s doctor testified during the hearing, observing that depression and PTSD can affect judgment.

The doctor also said theft can be linked to depression and PTSD, though he said PTSD is normally associated with theft that is compulsive in nature — such as shoplifting — rather than the systematic and planned theft carried out by Employee B.

The employer argued the premeditated nature of Employee B’s theft irreparably broke the bond of trust between employee and employer. The employer also pointed out that his theft was limited to his work environment, demonstrating Employee B was fully aware of what he was doing.

The union, however, argued Employee B’s diagnosis of PTSD and major depressive disorder should be considered as mitigating factors in his overall level of culpability. He was a long-service employee with a clear record, the union said, and when confronted with the employer’s evidence, he not only admitted to his actions but paid back the money.

The union proposed several possible remedies, one of which was to reinstate Employee B solely for the purpose of enabling him to apply for disability benefits.

Arbitrator weighs in

"While I do not accept that the evidence before me establishes that the premeditated scheme of systematic theft spanning more than 24 months, for which the grievor was discharged, was directly and fully prompted by his PTSD and depression, I must agree with counsel for the union that Employee B’s condition must be viewed as mitigating to some extent the grievor’s culpability," said arbitrator Michel Picher.

Picher ruled the grievance be allowed, in part, directing that Employee B be reinstated effective immediately — without compensation or general benefits — for the sole and only purpose of his filing an application for long-term disability benefits.

In the event that his application was denied, Picher ordered Employee B’s status as an employee cease.

Reference: Bell Canada and Unifor. Michel G. Picher — arbitrator. Evan VanDyk for the employer, Robert Church for the union. Nov. 26, 2015.

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