How an Employer dealt with a long standing anger management issue
Ms Leach was terminated after 28 years of service for allegedly uttering death threats against a co-worker and the Local President of the Union. Ms Leach admits to having an anger management issue, but denies the allegation.
Ms Leach began working for a City in 1983 and was awarded a position of labourer/truck driver in 1988. She was the first woman to hold such a position. Early into her performance of this position, her absenteeism became a problem. She attributed this to the stress and anxiety generated by gender based relationship problems with co-workers.
Ms Leach was first discharged from employment in 1989 and was reinstated by the award of an Arbitrator in 1990. The Arbitrator concluded that there was no evidence linking Ms Leach’s stress to any deliberate harassment from co-workers, but ought not be considered to have been absent due to deliberate acts of insubordination. Ms Leach returned to work.
In 1992 Ms Leach was discharged a second time. On this occasion she was reinstated during the grievance procedure.
In May 2001, Ms Leach received a non-disciplinary warning for arguing with and shouting at her supervisor, and leaving the workplace. In her evidence, she admitted that she had always had a “short fuse, and a bad temper”.
In November 2004, Ms Leach received a non-disciplinary verbal warning for angrily confronting a co-worker.
The latest situation stemmed from the selection of employees to attend training. There were more employees who qualified for the training than there were available spots. It was decided by management and the employees that the most fair way to determine participants would be to draw names out of a hat. Ms Leach was the only one who disagreed with the process. She was the senior employee and felt that she should go based on seniority.
Ms Leach refused to participate in the draw. The rest of the employees gathered for the draw and proceeded to draw names, including Ms Leach’s name. Just as the process began, Ms Leach came in, banged the door open, and started yelling and swearing. The incident took place in front of other employees and included lots of swearing, threats of filing a grievance and slamming of doors.
The employees were very upset, with several of them offering to give up their spots. Several were uncomfortable about going to the training.
Ms Leach was absent from work for a few days. She explained that she was so upset about the draw that she was under too much stress to return to work. When she returned, a meeting was established to discuss the incident.
Ms Leach met with Mr Tomas (management) and Mr Jon (Local Union President). Ms Leach was angry, swore profusely and claimed management was out to get her. She cut Mr Tomas off and had her hand gesturing closely to Mr Tomas’s face. Mr Jon tried to calm her down. Ms Leach’s angry outburst continued for 10 minutes.
Ms Leach said that she could say whatever she wanted and there was nothing they could do about it. Mr Jon called an end to the meeting. A three-day suspension was imposed for Ms Leach’s misconduct in the draw meeting.
After the meeting advising her of the discipline, she was absent from work for three months. She returned to work after the Employer requested updated medical information. There was no formal return to work procedure.
In December 2009 Ms Leach signed Minutes of Settlement which resolved a job competition grievance and a written letter of discipline revolving around absence without leave. In exchange, Ms Leach agreed to attend an anger management course, to be arranged and paid for by the Employer. The Employer also agreed to pay Ms Leach the sum of $2000 upon completion of the course which was explained as an additional incentive for Ms Leach to attend.
Ms Leach continued to have attendance issues and was meeting with management about the issues.
Ms Leach attended the anger management training and no concerns were raised by the facilitators.
Two days after Ms Leach reported the successful completion of the anger management counseling course, the incident occurred which led to her termination.
A meeting was held with the Union to determine how Ms Leach’s recent shoulder injury could be accommodated.
Mr Jon met with Ms Leach in private and came out of that meeting looking quite shaken. He insisted that he would no longer represent Ms Leach. When prompted, he shared that Ms Leach had threatened him. They were having a discussion about a past Union member who had passed away and Mr Jon said that they should not talk about him because he was dead. Ms Leach replied, “Yes, and you will be too”. An investigation into the threat was conducted and the Employer decided to terminate Ms Leach.
Ms Leach denied many of the allegations made against her but did admit to having an anger management issue. She felt that the Employer was deliberately building a case to attempt to terminate her.
In making the decision, the Arbitrator relied on extensive testimony from both the Union and the Employer side. He also referred to authorities presented by both sides. One part is particularly clear and instructive – a comment from C.G. Simmonds, who in the McCain Foods matter in 2002 said: “… What is certain, however, is death threats made in the workplace have no place in today’s society whether made in jest or seriously made. Indeed, society has become acutely aware that there is zero tolerance relating to such threats being uttered…” The Employer argued that termination was the only appropriate consequence of the case. The Union argued that the penalty of termination was out of proportion with the action of Ms Leach.
The Arbitrator found that it was more probable than not the Ms Leach said the words of which she was accused and in so doing uttered a death threat to Mr Jon. He found that the Employer reacted with appropriate deliberateness required by an allegation of workplace violence.
The Arbitrator concluded that the termination was justified. He stated that would not have been his conclusion if Ms Leach accepted responsibility for her actions or showed an appreciation for the seriousness of her conduct.
The grievance was denied.