How the responsibility to investigate impacts the workplace.
Ed is the CEO of a medium sized family owned manufacturing company. Kyle is an employee with over 30 years of seniority with the company. The allegations are that Ed violated the company’s harassment policy by yelling at and verbally abusing Kyle. The incident stems from the timeliness and quality of improvements made by Kyle to a piece of equipment for a very important customer. Ed and Kyle were in a confrontation about the equipment and Kyle became distraught, reported the incident to his supervisor and then left the workplace for the day. The company did not investigate Kyle’s allegations and he filed a grievance through the union.
The Company had delivered equipment to an important client and it was returned as defective. The client allowed the Company to attempt to make the issue right by redoing the job. Kyle completed the work and submitted it for inspection prior to being shipped out. The Production Supervisor, Barry inspected the equipment and completely rejected it. Barry told Ed he could not believe the lack of quality with the work that Kyle wanted to submit. The entire job needed to be disassembled and redone which delayed delivery and increased the pressure.
The inspection of the equipment took place at the end of the work day. Kyle, whose work was challenged and was now faced with the prospect of having to redo work, was frustrated. He waved his arms in the air, threw his tools on a work table and told the group that had been assembled to look at the equipment that he did not care and was going to go home and get drunk and forget about it. As it turned out, he did not leave work early that day. Ed was told about the incident, Kyle’s attitude and comments. The work was redone and assembled and Ed decided to inspect it himself before it went out.
Kyle said that he came upon Ed and his Manager who appeared to be having an argument. Kyle said he joined them at the location of the equipment and that was when Ed began to be little him. He said Ed was very mad and challenged him about the installation of the equipment. Ed questioned why it needed to be done three or four times and asked why Kyle submitted the previous work for delivery when it was not acceptable. Kyle tried to justify his original work and said that another supervisor thought it looked okay. Kyle said Ed started calling him names including ‘dog f***er’ and accused him of walking around the shop talking on his phone on company time. Kyle said Ed called him a drunk in reference to his comments the previous week. Ed said Kyle was a 30 year man, did not care and did not give a f**k anymore. Ed said, ‘Why don’t the older employees f**k off.’ Kyle responded that he liked his job and wanted to stay. He said the company was lucky to have an employee like him. The Manager intervened and conversation shifted to other topics.
Ed recalled the altercation differently. He said he asked a few questions about the equipment and Kyle became defensive and provided excuses. Ed said that Kyle’s comments about the company being lucky to have him did not go over very well with him. Ed said he replied that Kyle was well paid and that he was paid for every hour.
Ed categorically denied calling Kyle a ‘dogf***er’ and volunteered that he had never used that phrase in his life. He also denied the comments about older employees. Ed admitted to using the ‘f word’ but said that it was not directed at Kyle in particular and claimed they had used the word with each other in the past.
When the altercation ended, Kyle left and saw his supervisor, Barry. He told Barry what happened and broke down and cried. Barry told him to go home and said they would talk about it on Monday.
Kyle saw Barry on Monday but Barry did not appear to want to talk about the issue. Barry never did get back in touch withKyle. Barry did not pursue the matter further and neither did the Chair of the Workplace Harassment Committee who was aware of the issue.
Witness evidence was submitted that Ed had in fact used the term ‘dog f***er’ in a meeting two years previous.
There was no evidence provided of an investigation of any kind into what had happened between Kyle and Ed. Rather, the prime concern by management was the equipment and they continued to remain focussed on that aspect of the issue at the grievance hearing.
Upon hearing of the grievance, Ed submitted two written apologies to Kyle. However, the apologies continued to maintain that he had not used the language alleged and implied that Kyle had in fact attacked Ed during the exchange, The apologies also focussed on the equipment and the problems in getting the job done. At one point Ed summed his comments during the altercation up as ‘…honest and concise, and never was there any intent to cause Kyle any personal discomfort.”
Kyle testified that he did not think the apologies were sincere.
The panel found that for the most part Kyle’s evidence was better and more in line with witness information than Ed’s recollection. It was found that Ed indeed used the term ‘dogf***er’ and made the comments about older employees.
The panel found that the altercation did not take place on a level playing field, and that there was a power imbalance present.
The panel also noted that the company did not take any action to investigate the complaint. The fact that Barry was not called as a witness for the employer led the panel to the conclusion that he would have given evidence damaging to the employer.
The panel determined that the comments to Kyle about older employees did constitute harassment on the protected ground of age and also under personal harassment in the company’s policy. The panel sustained Kyle’s grievance by a majority decision.