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Workplace Violence Arbitration Ruling Results in a Surprising Turn of Events

Tuesday, January, 22, 2013


 

According to the decision made by an Ontario arbitrator, an employee’s comments relating to workplace gun violence was not reason to justify that employee’s dismissal.  This ruling came after specific circumstances in which employees were picketing, and one commented to fellow employees on the picket line that “I should have brought a gun to shoot.”  A security officer working for the company overheard the comment and turned in the employees name for further reprisal.  The company then called the local police to have the employee arrested, although charges against the employee were later dropped.  Following these events, the company fired the employee due to the incident and what it perceived to be as threats made by the picketing employee.    


In the current political and social climate in which workplace violence is a cause for much concern, particularly when it relates to the use of firearms, the arbitrator’s decision was a surprising one for many people.  However, according to the arbitrator in this case, when the employee made the comment, no one standing around him perceived the comment to be menacing or threatening in any way.  In fact, according to the arbitrator’s interpretation of the situation, the employee was “trying to be funny.” 


According to the arbitrator’s ruling, while the employee’s comments were “completely and totally inappropriate,” they were not grounds for dismissal.  While a recently enacted piece of legislation, Ontario's Bill 168, has included workplace violence and harassment provisions to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the arbitrator found that this particular situation was not relevant to the Act.


As a result, the arbitrator’s decision required that the company reinstate the employee to his position, with a 30-day suspension to be included as a permanent part of his file.  The employee was also awarded 19 months of back pay due to delays in beginning the arbitration process, which were, according to the arbitrator’s findings, the fault of the company and not the employee.