An employer’s ambiguous disciplinary policy and lenient past disciplinary practice has caused it to lose an otherwise strong just cause dismissal case.
After several security lapses at its Port Huron uranium conversion facility, Cameco Corp. conducted a “security readiness test and audit” of its night shift on April 17, 2011. At approximately 3:30 AM two managers from Cameco’s Security Department breached the facility’s security perimeter. Although the breach set off an alarm and was captured by monitors in the main gate house, the would-be intruders were not intercepted. Instead, the managers were able to travel unimpeded to the main gate house where upon arriving, they discovered the Grievor, a plant guard and supervisor, and one of his subordinates fast asleep.
Both employees were fully reclined and had their feet up on the desk. The Grievor had also removed his safety boots. It was subsequently acknowledged that the Grievor had watched a movie while on shift and that contrary to company policy, he had filled out his shift log at the beginning rather than the end of his shift. As a result, the Grievor’s log was not an accurate reflection of the assignments or events that had actually happened during his shift.
Given the Grievor’s multiple infractions of company policy and the significant safety risk posed by his dereliction of duty, Cameco terminated his employment, claiming just cause.
At the arbitration hearing that followed, the union denied that the Grievor had intended to fall asleep. Alternatively, the union argued that the Grievor was ill and that he had only taken off his safety boots because his feet were sore. The union further argued that Cameco should be prevented from relying on the Grievor’s movie watching and poor log keeping since Cameco had not instituted a clear policy on either of these matters nor had it consistently enforced any sort of rule regarding such conduct. However, most importantly, the union argued that because Cameco’s disciplinary policy listed “sleeping on the job” as misconduct which warrants only a verbal or written warning, it could not depart from its own policy and institute a punishment that was more severe.
Despite recognizing the importance of maintaining the facility’s security, the arbitrator nonetheless ordered the Grievor’s reinstatement (albeit to a lower level position and according to the terms of a “last chance” agreement). The arbitrator agreed with the union that Cameco had effectively condoned the Grievor’s conduct with respect to the movie watching and log keeping and therefore could not now rely on either of those matters in support of its decision to terminate the Grievor’s employment. The arbitrator ruled that the “Grievor’s falling asleep and apparent ‘nesting’, given his duties and the potential catastrophic consequences of his failure to attend diligently to them, is on the legal standard, just cause for termination”. However, the ambiguity in Cameco’s disciplinary policy and its apparent past practice of issuing warnings to employees who had previously been found sleeping meant that the employer did not have just cause.
Cameco Corporation v United Steelworkers, Local 8562 - http://www.canlii.org/en/on/onla/doc/2012/2012canlii2594/2012canlii2594.pdf