A lot of companies have progressive discipline policies and if the policy is followed correctly it can provide a justification for termination. A recent Canada Labour Arbitration highlighted the potential pitfalls of not following the progressive discipline policy and in particular that the failure to do so can turn what may have been a justified termination into an unjust termination, entitling the terminated employee to significant damages. In the case of Dominato v. Windsor Disposal Services Ltd., the complainant worked as a front end driver for the employer’s disposal service. He was suspended and ultimately dismissed after a series of incidents where he caused damage to the property of the employer and others. The complainant alleged that he was unjustly dismissed. The employer said that it had just cause to dismiss him, based on its progressive discipline policy.
The progressive discipline policy of the employer provided for a progression through various steps including verbal warning, written warning, suspension without pay and ultimately termination. The adjudicator highlighted that the “purpose of progressive discipline is to seek to correct an employee’s conduct by imposing progressively increased disciplinary sanctions until it is determined that further improvement is unlikely and that a “culminating incident” warrants dismissal. After finding that the pattern of discipline imposed by the employer was clearly not progressive, and was not in accordance with their policy, the adjudicator found that the employer did not have just cause.
This case serves as a reminder to employers to ensure both that they have a progressive discipline policy and also to ensure that it is followed so that the employee is subjected to progressively increasing disciplinary sanctions. Doing so will assist in establishing just cause for the termination of an employee.