A recent decision by the COMMISSION DES RELATIONS DU TRAVAIL (hereinafter the "C.R.T.") is a good illustration of the importance of observing the principle of progressive sanctions in the case of a disciplinary dismissal[1].

In this case, the employee had been working for the employer since 1999. On September 14, 2006, after being given verbal warnings and being suspended three times in June and July 2000 and August 2005, she was dismissed.

The C.R.T. emphasized that in disciplinary matters the principle of progressive sanctions must apply, which means in particular that the employee must be properly warned and punished in proportion to the offence. Thus, it held that "dismissal is only warranted at the outcome of a gradual process, except in the case of gross fault" [Translation]. Also, it is contrary to the principle of progressive sanctions not to punish offences immediately and to let them accumulate before applying sanctions.

The C.R.T. found that despite numerous incidents, no disciplinary warnings had been given by the employee’s superiors between July 2000 and August 2005. It concluded that the gradual disciplinary process begun by the employer in 2000 had not been followed through, thus causing it to "go back to zero" [Translation]. According to the C.R.T., the employer should have been consistent and pursued its disciplinary procedure until the complainant complied with the requests or was dismissed.

As for the dismissal, the C.R.T. found that "to compensate for its past inaction, the employer had hit hard, probably too hard" [Translation]. It noted some important lapses in the disciplinary procedure, in particular the fact that several times the complainant had not been asked to explain herself and had never been informed that she was liable to dismissal in the event of a subsequent offence.

According to the C.R.T., although the complainant had indeed committed several offences, dismissal was too harsh a sanction in view of the employer’s lapses in disciplinary procedure, and instead she should be suspended for 60 days.