Fired for gross misconduct

Employee misbehaviour can get quite unpleasant and lead to termination – just ask Marcelo

Fired for gross misconduct

Most people probably expect a certain level of professionalism at work, from colleagues as well as managers. It helps get the job done and keeps people focused. But employee misconduct can get pretty bad – in fact, it can get downright gross.

The soccer club Lyon of France’s Ligue 1 made the news recently when details came to light about one of its players, Brazilian defender Marcelo, who was dropped from the first team last August and then had his contract terminated in January of this year.

At the time, the team said it had been for inappropriate behaviour in the dressing room, but sources revealed that Marcelo laughed at a speech the team captain made to the team following a game – but that wasn’t the worst of the player’s unprofessional behaviour. The team also disciplined Marcelo for repeatedly farting around his teammates in the dressing room.

Maybe professional athletes are a different breed, as they are essentially adults being paid to play a game, but regular workplaces aren’t immune to similar types of misconduct.

Cases of bad body odour

Someone passing gas in the office may not be pleasant for co-workers, and neither would someone with bad personal hygiene habits. A few years ago, a B.C. food packaging company terminated a probationary employee following complaints from other employees that he had spit on the floor, blown on products to be packaged, had strong body odour, and didn’t excuse himself when passing gas. The company warned the employee about his behaviour and asked if he had any medical condition that could have contributed to his conduct, but the worker said nothing.

After he was fired, the worker was diagnosed with a disability that could cause body odour and flatulence, but the BC Human Rights Tribunal dismissed his discrimination complaint on the grounds that the company wasn’t aware of the disability and the dismissal was for performance issues, not the employee’s hygiene.

In an Ontario case from 2014, a company received multiple complaints from employees about a customer service agent’s body odour. The company gave him coaching, verbal and written warnings, suspensions and told him that proper hygiene was part of a professional and respectful workplace. It also suggested ways to reduce his odour, such has changing clothes after bicycling on a hot day, and asked if his odour was caused by a medical condition, but the worker said it was not.

The company eventually fired the worker, who filed a discrimination complaint saying his predominantly female colleagues had a stronger perception of body odour and he was held to a different standard as a “sweaty male.” The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal disagreed and dismissed his complaint.

Trimming the fat

While body odour and flatulence can be unpleasant, if a workplace by its nature is a little on the gross side, unprofessional behaviour can raise the bar. In 2015, an Ontario arbitrator dealt with the case of a worker at a food processing company who was fired after making rude gestures and throwing pieces of fat from cow carcasses at a co-worker. The co-worker estimated the worker threw up to 80 pieces of fat at him over the course of a shift. The worker denied it and said pieces of fat would get stuck in the vacuum he was using and he would dislodge them and throw them to the ground. However, another worker witnessed the behaviour.

The arbitrator found that the worker created a safety risk by throwing the fat and causing it to accumulate on the floor. This, along with the worker’s gestures, threats, and failure to acknowledge his misconduct, held up as grounds for dismissal, said the arbitrator.

Workplaces and pornography don’t mix

How about a worker grossing people out not by what they’re doing, but what they’re looking at in the workplace? A British politician recently made the news when he resigned after admitting to watching pornography on his phone – in the House of Commons. This can be a big concern for employers in an age where every worker is hooked up to the internet through their work’s electronic devices.

Take the case of an Alberta hospital that conducted an audit of its internet users in 2007 and discovered a respiratory therapist who had viewed pornography in a computer room during downtime – sometimes for up to two hours. The hospital terminated his employment for violating its internet policy, but the worker claimed that he had an addiction to pornography and was remorseful. However, an arbitrator upheld the dismissal because of the importance for the hospital to ensure female patients had complete confidence in its staff.

Employee misconduct always has the potential of disrupting the workplace, but sometimes it can descend to levels most people wouldn’t want to put up with. But as with any misconduct, employers should be sure to use progressive discipline and provide opportunities for the employee to improve. If they don’t, their gross misconduct may be cause for termination.

Latest stories