I have often discussed the need for warnings in the context of summary dismissal. While some situations will justify dismissal based upon a single incident, in many cases our courts and arbitrators will require progressive discipline. Whatever the steps may be, it is critical that the messaging to the subject employee be clear: the conduct or behavior is unacceptable, and further instances will lead to discipline, which can include termination for cause.
Employers often adopt zero tolerance policies and assume that doing so will give them the right to immediately fire someone for a breach. These are often used for transgressions that are considered particularly egregious, such as harassment. Although we consistently advise employers to address misconduct such as harassment and make it clear that such behaviour is unacceptable, the reality is that courts will not be bound by zero tolerance policies and will conduct their own assessment of whether summary dismissal is warranted. Saying that “we have a zero tolerance policy” will not be the end of the story.
A recent decision from the Ontario Superior Court is a reminder to employers that dismissal for just cause must be based on solid ground. Relying on vague acts of misconduct will not suffice, and policies must be properly implemented and consistently enforced.