Insolence, Unapproved Absences Each Warrant Discipline

Three separate absences from work without proper notification and a name-calling incident drew discipline for a driver. The union grieved the discipline, arguing that it was without just cause.

B.W. began his employment as a driver at a distribution warehouse in 2007. During that time, the employer instituted a policy on managing absences that required workers to provide at least 30 minutes’ notice prior to the beginning of a shift if they were going to be absent. Workers were required to call the phone number provided and cautioned that failure to provide proper notification would result in discipline.

Having arranged to take his vacation towards the end of January 2010, B.W.’s last scheduled workday before his two-week break was Tuesday, January 26. B.W. was a no-show at work that day. Monday, February 8 was B.W.’s first scheduled day back at work. However, he was a no-show on that day too — failing to provide notice as required for either day.

“See you Tuesday”

Upon his return, B.W. was issued a one-day suspension, which was to be served on Friday, February 12. The letter of suspension informed B.W. that he was expected back at work on the following Monday. That instruction was verbally underscored by B.W.’s supervisor. However, B.W. responded to his supervisor’s warning by saying, “See you Tuesday.”

Though not a recognized holiday in the collective agreement, the Monday in question — being the third Monday in February — was Family Day in Ontario. While workers could arrange to use one of their floating holidays provided in the collective agreement in order to take the Monday off, prior approval was necessary.

In any event, B.W. did not attend work on Monday. Nor did he attend work on Tuesday. Again, he failed to provide prior notice as required for either day.

Upon his return, B.W. was issued a three-day suspension for the first absence without notice and a five-day suspension for the second absence.

B.W. was also issued another three-day suspension for allegedly calling his supervisor a “f——— dickwad.”

At arbitration, B.W. offered no defence for the first no-show in January. By way of explanation for his delayed return from holiday, B.W. asserted that he had been given permission to take the day off by another supervisor.

As to his Family Day absence, B.W. said that he interpreted his supervisor’s silence in response to his “see you Tuesday” comment as tacit approval for his obliquely stated intention to take the day off.

While he initially blamed medication-induced drowsiness for his absence the next day, he later admitted that he had no excuse for his absence on February 16.

Salty shop talk

With respect to the name-calling incident, the union argued that a three-day suspension was excessive. B.W. would only own up to the “dickwad” part of the insult and denied compounding the epithet with the “F” word. He agreed that the insult was derogatory in nature but said that such language was not uncommon in the workplace.

The Arbitrator agreed that the three-day suspension for the name calling incident was an excessive response to “salty shop talk.” While some name-calling is common in the workplace, employers are entitled to require a degree of civility in the workplace and employees are not permitted to routinely insult persons in management. However, because the alleged insult was not in front of other employees, it was appropriate to reduce the suspension to one day.

However, the other suspensions were warranted, the Arbitrator said. The notion that B.W. had received permission from another manager to delay his return from holiday was not credible, the Arbitrator said. Similarly, B.W.’s explanation for his unauthorized Family Day absence did not stand up — however he chose to interpret his supervisor’s silence, the fact remained that he had been issued a letter telling him to be at work on the Monday. In view of this and his no-show the following day, the Arbitrator said that the suspensions were warranted.

“These events reflect a total disregard by [B.W.] for his responsibility to attend work and to keep the Employer informed of any upcoming absences. The Employer is simply not obliged to accept such conduct. For these reasons the grievances … are dismissed.”

Reference: United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local 175 and Maple Leaf Consumer Foods. Norm Jesin — Sole Arbitrator. Natalie Wiley for the Union and Dan Shields for the Employer. August 5, 2010. 6 pp.

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