A mining employee who consumed alcohol and uttered threats on a
picket line was not properly dismissed, as his threats were
"little more than the frustrations of a troubled man who was
under a great deal of personal, emotional and financial
stress", an Ontario arbitrator has held.
The employee had begun to drink alcohol upon his arrival at the
picket line at 1:00 am. He made a comment to a plant security
officer to the effect that he was losing his house and could not
find a job and that "someone will be hurt when the smelter
shows signs of smoke". Another security officer heard the
employee say that he was losing his wife, daughter and house and
that he should come back and shoot everyone. The employee was given
a taxi chit and sent home. Shortly afterwards, the employer
The arbitrator heard evidence that the grievor's personal
circumstances were very difficult: he had suffered a serous head
injury a few months earlier that could have been fatal; he was
having trouble sleeping and was taking medication for it; he had
been drinking regularly since the incident; he was under financial
stress; he and his wife were having marital problems; and shortly
after his dismissal, he tried to commit suicide and was
hospitalized for five days. He was under the care of a psychiatrist
and treated for depression, anxiety and suicidal inclinations. At
the time of the hearing, he was separated from his wife.
Arbitrator Wes Rayner noted that the "trend is now to treat
threats of physical violence more seriously". However, the
employee's picket line threats were "unfocussed" and
not directed at any particular person. His statement about
"shooting everyone" was the most troublesome but was said
in the context of his concern about losing his wife, daughter and
home and when he was most likely intoxicated from drugs and
alcohol. Dismissal was therefore an excessive response.
The arbitrator therefore reinstated the employee, but on
condition that he first be assessed by a medical practitioner,
mutually acceptable to the employee and the company, as to whether
he was fit to return to work. He must also provide a clear drug and
This decision could be read as a departure from a number of
other recent post-Bill 168 decisions, a number of which have been
occupationalhealthandsafety.com, in which courts and
arbitrators upheld the dismissal of employees who made threats of
violence. In this case, the employee's difficult personal
circumstances clearly made an impact on the arbitrator and appear
to have convinced him that the employee was unlikely to
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Ten days following the election, join us for a discussion with Gary Doer, former Canadian Ambassador to the US, and Gordon Giffin, US Ambassador to Canada under Bill Clinton, to discuss how the new President and Congressional makeup will shape US-Canada relations for years to come.
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