'Tightening the Screws'
Grievance of discipline not successful, credibility considered.
Frank and Tanya worked in a Provincial Government office. Tanya worked with the employer since 2001 and moved to the same office as Frank in 2004. She brought a harassment complaint against Frank in June 2005 which led to an internal investigation and the ultimate discipline (one day suspension) of Frank. Frank started with the employer in 1999 and had previously been “counseled” for his behaviour in the workplace. Tanya moved offices in March 2006 as she did not want to work with Frank any longer.
•The workplace where Tanya and Frank worked had “blind corners” where the hallway turned 90-degrees and people coming from opposite directions would not see each other until the last moment and might bump into each other.
•The employer provided for some of its employees housing accommodations as part of their recruitment strategy.
•A number of questions arose at the Grievance hearing. Was there just cause for disci- pline? If there was, was a one-day suspension excessive?
The Hallway Incident
In March 2005, Frank and Tanya met at one of the “blind corners” in the office. They arrived at the corner at the same time and were only inches away from each other although they did not actually bump into each other.
Tanya said she was startled, took a step back and raised her hands to her chest with her hands closed but not clenched. She said Frank stayed close to her and said “Don’t do that”. She said she told Frank she was sorry and was just startled and he replied, “Next time you do that you’re going to end up with a fat lip.” Tanya said that the way Frank said that made her feel threatened, very uncomfortable as he was in her “personal space”. She said she feared for her safety.
Frank said Tanya would often “posture” when she almost bumped into people at corners by taking an aggressive stance. He said he told her in the past that she should not be posturing like that and she had replied that she could not help it.
Frank confirmed that they had nearly bumped into each other. He said she had taken a step toward him and raised her fist as if to strike him. He said he thought of someone else’s reaction and told her, “You can’t be doing that. One of these times you are going to get a fat lip.” Frank said he made the comment in a light-hearted manner and had been smiling.
Frank went to his office and immediately emailed the Human Resources Representative. He asked how to handle the situation while providing limited details. He wrote,“We have a situation here in which a female employee makes a threatening gesture to strike male employees. What she does is raise her clenched fist up in a punch position and lunges towards the person…What is your advice?” The Representative indicated it was inappropriate for an employee to make threatening gestures and asked for more detail twice. Frank did not provide any more detail.
After getting the advice he was looking for,Frank confronted Tanya thee next day and said that he had spoken to HR who agreed that her behaviour was inappropriate and he told her she had to stop it immediately. Tanya asked him to leave her office, he did not and she said,“F***off. Get out of my office and don’t speak to me again without your supervisor.” She later apologized for swearing at him.
Tanya reported the incident to management at the workplace who advised her that it was no big deal and said she should ignore Frank and he would go away.
Frank went on two weeks of vacation and when he returned had a meeting with management about the hallway incident. They told him that he had acted appropriately.
The Phone Call Incident
Tanya and Frank lived close to each other in the employer provided housing. About three months after the hallway inci- dent, Frank became upset that Tanya had some people over to her house and had been making noise at 11:00 p.m. He had told her when she moved in that he considered “quiet time” to be at 8:00 p.m. which was when he preferred to sleep.
One morning, Tanya’s home phone rang at 4:30 a.m. The caller hung up but she could see from the caller ID that it had been Frank. Fearing an emergency, she called his number and he picked up but did not talk, then hung up. She went back to sleep and her phone rang again at 4:53 a.m. Again, the caller did not speak but hung up and again she noted that it was Frank’s number.
The next day Tanya spoke to management about it. They told her that there was nothing they could do about the situa- tion because it had occurred outside the workplace.
The Grievance Hearing
During the grievance hearing Frank admitted to making the calls and said he did so to teach Tanya a lesson as she had been making noise the previous evening. He said he wanted to give her an idea of what it was like to be without sleep.
Frank explained himself by saying “… changing behaviour is to start slowly by tightening the screws until an appropriate response.” He claimed this ‘graduated response’ had been taught to him at the company training courses he had attended.
The grievance was dismissed.
Reasoning included that while Frank said he made the comments in the hallway in a lighthearted manner, his behaviour contradicted that (immediately emailing HR). His description of the physicality of the incident was also seen to be not as credible as Tanya’s.
The arbitration panel commented “We are satisfied that the Griever’s conduct against his co-worker…in making the early morning phone calls, amounted to intimidation, harassment or inappropriate conduct towards a co-worker. The Greivor’s own evidence about “tightening the screws” confirmed continuation of a deliberate, planned course of conduct against a colleague who had to work with him daily in close proximity at the office.”