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“The Next Element to Attack is Fire”: Employee Properly Dismissed for Threatening / Intimidating Statement

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An Ontario arbitrator has upheld the discharge of a “modern day prophet” who stated, “the first element to attack is water – the next is fire” after being told that she was suspended for five days.

The employer had issued the five-day suspension to the employee for carelessly packing defective product.  The employee asked to speak with the plant manager, and then made the water-fire statement.  Her statement had particular poignancy because of a serious flood at the facility approximately one year earlier.

The employer discharged the employee.  The union grieved.  At the arbitration hearing, the employee testified that “there was too much wickedness in the plant” and that the manager’s disciplinary decisions had been wicked and unreasonable.  She stated that she was a religious person and that she believed that bad things happen to wicked people.  She also said that she had no intention of starting any fires and did not intend any threat.  She refused to apologize.

Arbitrator Norman Jesin referred to Bill 168 which added workplace violence provisions to the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act.  He decided that the employer had just cause to discharge the employee.  Even if the water-fire statement was not a threat, it was made in a loud and aggressive manner and was an attempt to intimidate the plant manager into reconsidering the five-day suspension.  The arbitrator stated that, “The grievor would have me believe that she is a modern day prophet simply issuing a warning for the benefit” of the plant manager. “But I have no doubt that the comments were designed to scare [the manager] into rescinding the suspension.”

In light of the employee’s disciplinary record (a previous one-day and three-day suspension), and particularly in light of the employee’s failure to show any remorse, the arbitrator upheld the termination.

This decision is part of what appears to be a trend towards arbitrators taking a hard line on threats of violence (see a previous blog post on this issue here).

U.S.W. v. Plastipak Industries Inc., 2012 CarswellOnt 7659 (Ontario Arbitrator)