Firing for worker threatening to shoot managers

The stress of his job was beginning to take its toll on the grievor and he was the subject of complaints. He began to blame management for his problems and, finally, threatened to bring a gun to work. Despite the fact that he had mental health issues and was not taking his medication, the grievor’s threat was too serious to overlook.

A Parking Control Officer employed by a municipality was fired after he threatened to bring a gun into work and shoot management.

C.L. began working as a Parking Control Officer in 1984. The job entails conducting patrols of given areas, identifying by-law infractions, issuing tickets and appearing in court as required. The Parking Control Officers worked largely unsupervised, however, they began and ended their day with a roll call in the parade room where they were given their assignments at the beginning of the shift and required to turn in their equipment to finish the shift.

The job could be stressful. C.L. reported that members of the public threw coffee and beer at him. He had also been pushed and shoved, hit with metal tools and told he was subhuman. Taxi drivers threatened to kill him.

It was not uncommon for members of the public to complain about Parking Control Officers. However, beginning in 2004, C.L.’s supervisor informed the manager of by-law enforcement that the unit had received a number of complaints from the public about C.L.

Abrasive and intimidating

The complaints alleged that C.L. was abrasive and intimidating. There were also complaints about C.L.’s demeanour and appearance. C.L. had a significant number of tattoos and a partially shaved head.

In the year prior to his termination, C.L. met with his supervisor more than three times to address complaints from the public that C.L. was rude, aggressive and unprofessional.

In November 2006, C.L. was issued a memo expressing increasing concerns about the frequency and nature of the complaints from the public about his behaviour. C.L. was ordered to attend a training session.

One effect of the memo was to solidify C.L.’s belief that his job was in jeopardy and that management was building a case to get rid of him.

Later in November, an altercation with a member of the public prompted C.L. to seek medical attention for stress. He was told to stay off work until December 12. During the course of his examination it was revealed that C.L. had stopped taking medications prescribed for him for depression and insomnia.

C.L. returned to work on December 12. On December 19, C.L. was in the parade room after 11 pm with a number of other officers and a supervisor. Appearing agitated and angry, C.L. reportedly made a number of negative comments about management. He then said that he intended to bring a gun into the workplace and shoot members of management. He also made reference to a workplace shooting incident that occurred at an Ottawa transit garage that resulted in a number of fatalities.

Indications were that the fellow officers in the room did not take the threat seriously. However, the supervisor did feel threatened and reported the incident the next day.

Charged by police

Shortly after arriving for work on December 20, C.L. was informed that he was being suspended pending an investigation into the comments he made the previous evening. Police arrived on scene and escorted C.L. from the premises. C.L. was later charged with uttering a death threat and with possession of a dangerous weapon after it was discovered that he had a four-inch knife on his person.

C.L. was terminated effective January 24, 2007. The union grieved.

The union acknowledged that some discipline was warranted for C.L.’s conduct. However, he had already suffered serious consequences for the brief outburst. C.L. had expressed regret. In view of the fact that he was a long-service employee with a clear disciplinary record, reinstatement was appropriate. In his own mind, C.L. had indulged in a “rant.” He had no intention of hurting anyone and a subsequent assessment by a psychiatrist provided the opinion that C.L. was a low risk to commit violence.

Discrepancies between C.L.’s testimony at the hearing and the statements he made to the psychiatrist raised questions about whether or not the psychiatrist was in a position to properly assess the risk that C.L. presented to the workplace, the Arbitrator said.

In any event, an accurate assessment of the real risk presented by C.L. was only part of the consideration.

Cause of fear

“[T]he issue does not turn entirely on the risk of violence in the event that the Grievor were to be reinstated to employment. The Employer has a responsibility to provide a safe workplace for all employees, including members of management and employees have a right to feel that their workplace is safe and secure. The Board is not satisfied that this would be possible if the Grievor were reinstated to employment … The utterance of threats, such as occurred here is intended to cause others to fear for their safety and had that effect in this case.”

The Arbitrator acknowledged C.L.’s long service and clear record. “Nevertheless, threatening physical violence in the workplace is an extremely serious offence.”

C.L. had caused members of management to fear for their personal safety and for the safety of others.

“Given the importance of safety in the workplace and the right of all employees to feel that their workplace is safe and secure, we find that this is not an appropriate case in which to modify the penalty of discharge.”

The grievance was dismissed. The union nominee to the Board dissented.

Reference: The Ottawa-Carleton Public Employees’ Union, Local 503 and The City of Ottawa. Jane H. Devlin — Chair; Joe Hebert (Union Nominee) and Ron Leblanc (Employer Nominee) — Members. David Jewitt for the Union. Christine Enta for the Employer. May 25, 2011. 37 pp.

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