36-year employee properly dismissed for “unprovoked momentary outburst” with knife

A 57 year old employee with 36 years of service was properly fired for one incident in which he cut another employee with a knife, a labour arbitrator has decided.

The employee was a custodian with a textiles company.  He carried two “utility/box” cutting knives, which had short retractable blades.  While eating lunch one day, he became annoyed when a co-worker banged on the lid of his Tupperware container, causing several loud noises.  The employee produced two utility knives and said to the co-worker, “Would you like the curved blade or the straight blade?”  The employee began to swing one utility knife towards the co-worker’s legs, and then above the table towards his chest.  The co-worker reached out to grab the employee’s arm and, in his attempt to protect himself, received a shallow cut to his forearm, which started to bleed.  About an hour later, while the co-worker was leaving the workplace, the employee said, “You are lucky that I didn’t stab you in the heart.”

The employer fired the employee.  The union grieved the firing.  The employee was also charged with and pleaded guilty to the criminal offences of assault with a weapon and uttering a threat.

At arbitration, the arbitrator upheld the dismissal. He found that there was no justification for the employee’s outburst.  Rather, “it was simply an irrational act of anger”.  Although the employee had obtained counselling and anger management training his “unexplainable act” still made it questionable as to whether he would do something similar in future.  Also, the harm to the co-worker could have been grave.  Rather than apologizing to the co-worker, the employee commented that “You are lucky that I didn’t stab you in the heart.”  Further, the judge in the employee’s criminal case ordered that he have no contact with his injured co-worker, which made it very difficult for the employee to return to work.

As a result, the arbitrator was not satisfied that the fact that the employee received counselling and anger management training provided sufficient confidence that he would not engage in similar misconduct if he returned to work.  The fact that the employee’s misconduct was an “unprovoked momentary outburst” was “more of a concern than a consolation”.  Even though the grievor was 57 years  old and had 36 years of service, the discharge was appropriate.  This decision shows arbitrators’ increasing willingness to uphold employers’ decisions to terminate for workplace violence.

Firestone Textiles Company v United Food and Commercial Workers Canada, Local 175, 2014 CanLII 76772 (ON LA)

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Adrian Miedema

About Adrian Miedema

Adrian is a partner in the Toronto Employment group of Dentons Canada LLP. He advises and represents public- and private-sector employers in employment, health and safety and human rights matters. He appears before employment tribunals and all levels of the Ontario courts on behalf of employers. He also advises employers on strategic and risk management considerations in employment policy and contracts.

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