Carla Smith first began working for the Saskatoon Community Clinic (“the Clinic”) in March of 1975. She retired in 2008 but came back to work for the Clinic in 2009. She continued to work for the Clinic until she was terminated for cause in September of 2016. Between 1975 and 2016 the employee had a discipline-free record.

In March of 2016 Ms. Smith began to exhibit behavioural issues. On March 17, 2016 she received a written reprimand for refusing to take her earned days off, and on March 21, 2016 was suspended for swearing at her manager at the time the discipline related to the failure to take her earned days off was issued.

Following the suspension the employee was discipline-free for a period of six months, but in September of 2016 her behaviour began to deteriorate. She inappropriately created a message in a patient’s Electronic Medical Record and left a threatening message for a co-worker within the electronic record. She also bullied and made threats against another co-worker and was abrupt, aggressive and rude toward a nurse employed at the Clinic after inappropriately accessing a patient’s medical record with no reason to do so. The employee also improperly created a lab requisition which was well beyond her scope of practice.

All of these instances contravened employer policies on confidentiality, client information and ethics. The employee was aware of the policies and had received regular training on them. Following an investigation, the employer terminated Ms. Smith’s employment for just cause.

At arbitration the board held that the employer’s actions in terminating the employee were justified, even though the employee had a 40-year discipline-free record.

The case illustrates the importance of strong employer policies, regular education on policies and strict enforcement. It also illustrates how effective progressive discipline can be used to solve behavioural issues in the workplace, even with employees with considerable seniority and lengthy discipline-free records.

As noted by arbitrator Anne Wallace, Q.C. in the decision, seniority can be just as much an aggravating factor as it is a mitigating factor in discipline cases depending on the circumstances.