Thursday, February 7, 2013

Lack of consistency in employer response leads removal of warning letter

Here's an interesting arbitration award summarised by my friend and blog contributor Diane Maclean.  The summary is set out below and the case bears reading 
Telus Communications v. Telecommunications Workers’ Union,
Date: May 8, 2012 Arbitrator: Mark J. Brown

Grievance: Warning letter (grievance allowed)


The grievor was a senior and highly regarded employee. However, she and the employer did not see eye to eye regarding customer service. If a customer called with a problem that would take more than 10 minutes to resolve, an employee was to refer the issue to the appropriate department. If it would take longer than 10 minutes to resolve the problem, employees were to email the employer so the information could be used as a coaching tool for the employee who took the initial call. The grievor’s manager said she would get between three to five of these emails from the grievor per day,compared to an average of between zero and two, that is, she would be handling more of these calls herself, rather than referring them. The grievor usually had the highest or second highest call service time and often the lowest number of calls per day. The grievor’s manager reported that she had several conversations with the grievor, advising her that her focus should be sales. The grievor would improve for a while but then revert back to focusing on customer service (taking full responsibility for a call rather than referring it to the appropriate department). Her manager also advised her several times not to give out her direct phone line or e-mail to customers unless a sale was possible and a follow-up call was necessary, but the grievor continued to give out her direct line and email address. Many letters were sent to the grievor and eventually she received a warning letter which indicated that a failure to improve could lead to dismissal, which led to a grievance.

Analysis and Decision

The arbitrator was satisfied that the employer had defined the required level of job performance and that these standards were clearly communicated to the grievor. In fact, the grievor testified that she understood the performance expectations. He also concluded that the employer had given the grievor reasonable supervision and instruction regarding the standard and a reasonable opportunity to meet the standard. As well, he concluded the employee was capable of performing to the standard and had met the target on several occasions. However, the arbitrator found that letters of expectation and/or warnings were were not issued in a consistent manner. For example, some employees who were below but close to the threshold did not receive letters, while the grievor did. As well, there were some employees who did not meet the threshold two or more times and were not issued letters.

The arbitrator concluded that the warning letter was not justified because the steps in the performance management process had not been consistently applied. He also commented that the employer may have had cause to issue a warning for insubordination, but had not done so.

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