The Ontario Court of Appeal has upheld a trial judge's
decision that an employee's violation of a lockout rule was not
just cause for dismissal.
The employer, a manufacturing company, had a strong culture
of workplace safety. Its "Cardinal Rules" of safety
included the requirement that employees lock out any machinery
being worked on, and that employees immediately report any
violations of the company's safety policy.
Plester, a line-supervisor, attempted to fix a machine
without locking it out. He did not immediately report
his violation. The next morning, he tried to dissuade
subordinate employees from reporting his mistake.
However, they had already reported the violation. The company
promptly fired the supervisor.
The Ontario Court of Appeal stated:
"We appreciate that an employer's ability to respond
strongly and swiftly to violations of rules designed to ensure
workplace safety reinforces the importance of such rules, and
promotes a culture of workplace safety. We also appreciate that a
line-supervisor, such as the respondent, is generally subject to a
higher standard than a line worker. And, given PolyOne's fully
warranted concerns about workplace safety, we agree with the trial
judge that the respondent made a serious mistake. However, the
respondent's mistake did not appear to have put any other
persons at risk, and he was a long-standing, good, hard-working
employee with only minor incidents of past discipline as a
line-worker, pre-dating his promotion to line-supervisor some six
"Moreover, the trial judge accepted that the respondent
planned to report his violation; what occurred was an intended
short delay in reporting, as opposed to a suppression of a
violation. We are not persuaded by PolyOne's argument that that
the respondent's conduct was such a violation of trust that a
continuing relationship was impossible."
This decision shows that not every safety violation will be just
cause for dismissal, even where the employer has a strong safety
culture. Instead, depending on the severity of the safety
violation, progressive discipline may be necessary before an
employer dismisses an employee for just cause.
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