Safety at the Workplace
As he sat in his cubicle (what some would call an office) sipping what remained of a cold cup of coffee, Jon Atherton thought about his family back home in Vancouver. He missed his wife and two young daughters, and at times, he longed for his old job and his life back in British Columbia. On the other hand, his family would be joining him in Wilmington in a couple of months, and the job that he had left six weeks ago in Vancouver had ceased to provide much challenge. Although his job as a supervisor on the shop floor of a small manufacturing firm gave him some experience in the area of health and safety, his new position in Wilmington was that of safety coordinator. Deep down, he knew that he loved the work—it was just that upon his arrival in Wilmington, everything seemed to be in turmoil. As soon as he solved one problem, another one would pop up.
THE FIRST ISSUE
A week ago, Jon met with Sam Johnson, a 42-year-old man who has been with Maple Leaf Shoes for eight years. Sam is one of two nonunion employees working at the snack bar—his job requires that he serve customers and prepare “snack” foods (such as toast, muffins, and cold sandwiches) for employees. The snack bar is located in the employee lounge, a common hangout for employees on break or having lunch. Fellow employees get along well with Sam—he is always cheerful and his laugh can be heard throughout the lounge on a regular basis. As well, Sam’s supervisor says that Sam is a solid performer. Jon also recalled that Sam is taking computer courses on a part-time basis at a nearby community college.
Jon thought back to his talk with Sam a week ago. Sam appeared to be uneasy and reserved when he entered Jon’s office and told Jon he had something very important to tell him. Jon recalled how they struggled to get through the conversation—ultimately, Sam revealed to Jon that he had become infected with the AIDS virus and asked Jon for advice. Jon and Sam had arranged to meet in a week’s time.
Catherine Reading, who is 56 years of age and has been with Maple Leaf Shoes for 12 years, is the other employee who works with Sam at the snack bar. Catherine is a dependable worker, and while she and Sam are not close friends, they get along well at work. Aside from getting a warning for being 14 minutes late a few years ago, Catherine has a clean work record. Shortly after meeting with Jon, Sam told Catherine that he had been infected with the AIDS virus (saying “Since you work with me, I felt I had to tell you”). Catherine was very troubled by this information. The next day, she reported for work but refused to work with Sam. Her supervisor asked Catherine if she was refusing to obey his orders. Catherine replied “Yes, I am. I am scared, and I’ll never work with someone who has AIDS.” The supervisor told Catherine that refusing to carry out his request amounted to insubordination. He sent Catherine home and went to see Jon for advice.
- Does Maple Leaf Shoes have just cause to dismiss Sam? Catherine?
- What should Jon do in this case?
- Develop a policy on AIDS and describe how you would administer this new policy.
THE SECOND ISSUE
Alexandra (Alex) Dixon, a 26-year-old employee at Maple Leaf Shoes, has been employed in her current secretarial position for almost two years. Prior to receiving the promotion to this position, Alex worked with Maple Leaf for six years as an office assistant. She is a single mother with a five-year-old daughter. Note that the secretarial staff is unionized.
Alex’s performance evaluations have been slightly above average. However, her personnel file indicates that 18 months ago she received a three-day suspension because she and another employee were caught drinking on the job during regular working hours (“just a couple of drinks on a boring Friday afternoon,” according to Alex).
Over the past few years, Maple Leaf Shoes has had some problems with substance abuse at work (although the problems have been confined almost entirely to employees in the production and warehouse facilities). In one case, a forklift operator under the influence of cocaine dropped a wooden pallet loaded with shoes from about 15 feet in the air—luckily, no one was seriously hurt. Six months ago, Alex’s supervisor called in all of her staff to let them know that the company was concerned about safety and would not tolerate the use of drugs at work. There had not been problems of drug use among the office staff, and the topic of drug use was not mentioned again.
Two weeks ago, Alex’s supervisor thought that she saw Alex take a puff on a marijuana cigarette on company property (actually on the far side of the company parking lot) at the end of the day. The next day, the supervisor confronted Alex at her workstation and accused her of taking drugs while at work. This meeting was witnessed by six other office employees. Alex admitted smoking the cigarette (saying that she only had about three puffs while on company property), made it clear that she was on her own time (“It was well past quitting time”), said that she was very sorry, and promised never to do it again. However, the supervisor told Alex that the company was clamping down on drug use and terminated her.
The union is filing a grievance about Alex’s discharge. The collective agreement gives Maple Leaf Shoes the right to discipline or discharge an employee for “just cause.”
- Does Maple Leaf Shoes have just cause to terminate Alex?
- In discharge cases, the grievance procedure at Maple Leaf Shoes goes directly to the third step, a meeting between senior union and management representatives. The management side is looking to Jon for advice on how to proceed. Help Jon formulate an appropriate strategy.