[author: Lindsay Mullen]
An Alberta arbitrator ruled that a company had just cause to immediately terminate the employment of a lead mechanic for a Lockout/Tag Out Policy violation because of the exceptional lengths the company had gone to in order to maintain a high level of safety in the plant.
On the day of the incident, a lead mechanic, with seven years of service with the company, was called to the shrink wrapper area and reported that it was not working and that the trunnion wheel had snapped. As the same problem had occurred previously, the mechanic knew that the gear box had to be replaced. He locked out the machine and replaced the gear box. The mechanic later received a call that the shrink wrapper was still not functioning properly. Rather than following the company’s Lockout/Tag Out Policy, the mechanic returned with a rag to clean the oil off the trunnion wheel. He held the rag on the trunnion wheel intending to clean off the oil while the wheel rotated. A jagged edge on the inside part of the rotating wheel caught the rag and flipped the mechanic’s right hand. His thumb nail was removed on impact. The mechanic immediately reported the incident, a workplace investigation followed and the worker was terminated for cause.
The mechanic claimed that he was wrongfully dismissed. The arbitrator concluded that the mechanic was well-versed on the plant safety policy, as well as the expectations of the company and the consequences for failing to follow the Policy at the time of the incident. Moreover, given his experience and position as a mechanic leader, and bearing in mind the emphasis of the company on the importance of observing safety procedures, the arbitrator found it difficult to understand why the mechanic did not follow the Policy on the day of the incident. A deliberate and conscious decision to ignore the Policy was made and can only be viewed as an act of defiance which undermined the confidence and trust of the company. The arbitrator ruled that the just cause termination was justified.
A key point from this case is that if a company policy is relied on for an employee’s termination, the company must ensure that employees are thoroughly aware of company policies and the consequences that may result from a violation.
Lamb-Weston v United Steelworkers of America (Local Union 6034), 2011 CanLII 82275 (AB GAA),