The Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the Superior Court (2011 ONSC 6068) that employee, John Plester, who failed to report a safety violation in a timely manner, was wrongfully dismissed by his employer PolyOne. The Court of Appeal agreed that the dismissal of John Plester was a disproportionate response to the incident.

The decision, Plester v. PolyOne Canada Inc. 2013 ONCA 47 of the Ontario Court of Appeal was released on January 28, 2013.

Mr. Plester, a line-supervisor, was a 17-year employee with a largely unblemished safety record. His employer, PolyOne, had a strong workplace safety culture and a policy that employees report safety violations “immediately.” The incident that resulted in Mr. Plester’s dismissal involved his failure to lock out a machine he was working on as required, and his subsequent failure to immediately report the safety violation. Additionally, Mr. Plester had attempted to dissuade subordinates from reporting his mistake before he had the chance to report it to management himself. Management quickly discovered the failure to report, and Mr. Plester was immediately dismissed without notice.

In deciding for Mr. Plester, the court recognized an employer’s ability to respond to violations of workplace safety rules. However, given Mr. Plester’s long-standing service with only minor disciplinary incidents, and none since his promotion to supervisor six years earlier, it found that immediate dismissal was not the appropriate sanction in this case. The court also considered the fact that the incident had not harmed another worker.

Although safety in the workplace must be a top priority for employers, decisions to terminate employment for safety violations must be assessed on a case-by-case basis. There may be instances where termination of employment is warranted, however, employers will need to consider all factors and possibly apply less severe sanctions where appropriate. For example, suspension or discipline may be more appropriate sanctions than terminating the employment of a long-standing employee with a clean safety record.