In the recent decision UFCW, Local 1400 v Prairie Pride Natural Foods Ltd, 2013 CanLII 82240 (SK LA), a Saskatchewan arbitration board upheld the dismissal of a long-term employee for workplace violence and harassment threats.
The grievor worked as a Hanger in the employer’s poultry processing plant. He had been employed for five years, which was a lengthy period of employment for the workplace which had high turnover. In September 2011 the grievor was suspended 3 days for elbowing another employee in the chest and yelling and swearing at him. In May 2012 the grievor threatened to come at the same employee with a knife and threatened to assault and kill them. The grievor was terminated in June 2012 and grieved the termination.
The Union contended that the incidents had never taken place and, if they had, the discipline was too harsh.
The grievances were dismissed and termination upheld. In its decision, the arbitration board found that the incidents had indeed taken place and that the discipline in both cases was appropriate. With respect to the first incident, the majority of the board had no trouble concluding that a three-day suspension was appropriate, noting that such behaviour must be brought under control due to its potential to escalate into something serious. The majority of the board concluded that termination was appropriate for the second incident, despite the grievor’s relatively long service history. The previous suspension, the lack of provocation and remorse, and the grievor’s success at finding a new job all were factors the board considered in upholding his dismissal. The primary factor, however, was the seriousness of the incident. The board was conscious of the fact that the victim felt legitimately threatened by the grievor and that the threats themselves were of an extremely serious nature. The board was persuaded that a continued threat to the workplace existed if the grievor were returned, which created an “ever pressing need to act in a manner to stabilize the workplace and dispel the threat”. As such, reinstatement was not appropriate and the dismissal was upheld.
This case is another in a growing line of recent case law, including in Ontario post Bill 168, that has taken a strong stance against threats of violence in the workplace. This case illustrates that where an employee’s conduct and lack of remorse results in a continued threat to the workplace, the employment relationship will not be salvageable. It also shows that threats of violence can be treated as seriously as actual violence in the workplace, particularly where the threats are serious and credible. While termination will not be applied by arbitrators as the “automatic” penalty, it will be appropriate in circumstances where rehabilitation is not possible and risks to the workplace would remain with an award of reinstatement.