Northwest Territories social worker fired for importing alcohol into dry area

Employee had 34 cans, bottles of beer sent via plane

A probationary employee working for the Yellowknife Health and Social Services Authority (YHSSA) was dismissed after it was discovered she had multiple units of beer, wine and liquor shipped into a liquor-prohibited community.
Luviminda Richardson was hired for the YHSSA on Jan. 4, 2016, for a two-year term as supervisor of social programs, based in the 300-person village of Lutsel K’e, N.W.T. Her new position was to provide social assistance to local community members with their addictions.
On May 31, Richardson was at the Air Tindi location in Yellowknife, and she requested a package be sent via air to the Lutsel K’e Health Centre, with the shipping costs charged under the YHSSA account.
Under the local Lutsel K’e Liquor Prohibition Regulation, possession of alcohol was illegal.
The shipment was initially delayed but on June 2, it was shipped to Lutsel K’e via Air Tindi. At 8 a.m., the package was discovered to hold liquor and the RCMP were called in. It held 24 cans of beer, six tall cans of beer, four large bottles of beer, one bottle of hard liquor and two cartons of wine.
No charges were ever laid by the police.
Richardson attended an initial meeting the following day with Elske Canam, director of social programs, and two others. Further meetings were held and on June 13, Richardson was advised the YHSSA was considering rejecting her employment on probation.
Richardson wrote a letter on June 17 that said: “I have taken steps by way of reaching out to EFAP (employee and family assistance program), and I continue to use that resource to learn how best to cope and manage with workplace stressors. I am willing to explore other coping mechanisms that are healthier and more sustainable than the ones I have relied on in the past.”
She resigned via email on June 30 and on July 4, the employer terminated her. However, on July 5, she advised YHSSA that she wanted to rescind her resignation. 
The employer rejected it and on July 6, the Union of Northern Workers (UNW) grieved the termination.
Richardson testified that she had previously smuggled in alcohol via carry-on luggage. She said drinking alcohol was a “mechanism to cope” with the new job, which was overwhelming at times. Richardson commonly had three or four drinks per night. 
Richardson said she didn’t feel there was any support available in the small village and the doctor only was available once every two weeks. She testified she didn’t want to take up his time, considering there were so few options available to local people. 
The employer countered and said the onus was on Richardson to seek help for any disability and because she didn’t request help for alcohol dependency, YHSSA wasn’t aware of a problem. 
However, said the union, it was up to the employer to reach out to the employee and inquire about a possible disability, especially after Richardson admitted she used alcohol to cope.
Arbitrator John Moreau agreed: “I find and declare that the employer’s failure to obtain a medical prognosis on the grievor about a possible alcohol dependency condition prior to rejecting the grievor on probation amounts to a breach of the duty to inquire on the part of the employer and discrimination under article 3.02 of the collective agreement.”
No damages were ordered due to the “premeditated act of charging the transportation of alcohol to the YHSSA account is inexcusable and a clear breach of trust going to the root of the employment relationship. It cannot be condoned. An award of damages in any amount would have that effect,” said Moreau.
“(Richardson’s) admission from the outset that she needed alcohol to cope and yet could still carry on and do her job should have been a red flag to the employer that the grievor’s circumstances required further investigation. The absence of taking any further steps to determine if the grievor had an alcohol problem, such as obtaining a medical prognosis, amounts in my view to a breach of the duty to inquire on the part of the employer and discrimination under the collective agreement,” said Moreau.
Reference: Yellowknife Health and Social Services Authority and Union of Northern Workers. John Moreau — arbitrator. Maren Zimmer, Sandra Jungles for the employer. Feb. 19, 2019. 2019 CarswellNWT 7

Latest stories