Termination warranted for one-time petty theft

The grievor was a short-time employee and at first denied the accusation of theft. Because the collective agreement stipulated termination for theft, and there was no question of the grievor’s motive and intent, the arbitrator’s hands were tied.

A maintenance worker was fired after it was discovered he replaced a wiper blade on his own car with one he took from a work vehicle.

K.S. worked part-time as a maintenance worker for a municipality. Hired in April 2009, he was fired on March 4, 2010. He had only a verbal warning on his record.

On Feb. 8, 2010, the Maintenance Supervisor was doing his daily walkabout. The Supervisor noticed the wiper blade on the passenger side of K.S.’s car was of the same type the employer used on its TransHelp buses. He noticed the blade because it was a type available from one source and the employer was evaluating on trial.

The Supervisor reported his observation to the Manager of Accessible Transportation. They recorded the serial number on the blade and compared it to the numbers from the lot sent by the supplier. They matched.

K.L. was summoned to a meeting on March 4. A union steward accompanied K.L. The transportation manager and a human resources representative were also present.

K.L. was told that information had surfaced implicating him in a theft. K.L. was asked if he had ever removed any property belonging to TransHelp. He said he had not. He was asked if he had taken wiper blades belonging to TransHelp. He said he had not.

Serial numbers matched

When K.L. was told the serial number from one of the blades on his car matched the numbers of blades purchased by the employer, he remained adamant he had purchased the blades at an auto parts retailer. K.L. cited narrative detail to support his story.

K.L. was cautioned he needed to be truthful or he risked making a bad situation worse. He continued to deny he had taken anything.

Shortly after the meeting, K.L. met with the steward. A follow-up meeting was quickly convened. K.L. admitted taking the blade and apologized. He said he took the blade because the blade on his car was broken.

K.L. was fired. The union grieved.

The employer said the termination was warranted. The collective agreement provided for summary discharge in cases of theft and it was not possible to label K.L.’s actions as anything other than theft, the employer said. As a result, the Arbitrator could not substitute a lesser penalty.

Bad choice

The union said K.L. did not intend to commit a theft. He was caught at work on a rainy night with a broken wiper blade on his car. He took a blade off a spare bus so he could operate his vehicle safely. There were no supervisors present to grant permission. After that night he lent his vehicle to his girlfriend for an extended time and, consequently, forgot about the blade, which explained why he did not immediately own up to taking the blade during the first interview. K.L. made a bad choice and he was remorseful but he did not commit a theft, the union said.

The Arbitrator disagreed. K.L.’s behaviour did not support the theory that he only intended to “borrow” the blade to get home safely on a rainy night. He could have left a message with his supervisor or replaced the blade the next day, but he did neither. When confronted, K.L. denied initially he had taken anything. “[I] am unable to come to any other conclusion than that [K.L.] stole the wiper blade,” the Arbitrator said.

“The parties to this collective agreement have agreed that the penalty for ‘theft or removal of property… from the Employer’s premises without proper authorization’ is discharge. Having found that the Grievor committed a theft, Article 12.02 [of the collective agreement] applies and I do not have the jurisdiction to alter the penalty imposed by the Employer.”

The grievance was dismissed.

Reference: Region of Peel and Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 966. Diane Brownlee — Sole Arbitrator. Helen Gibb-Gavel for the Union. John Gescher for the Employer. Feb. 11, 2011. 5 pp.

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