Double Jeopardy: Arbitrator Recognizes that Email Criticising Conduct can Constitute Discipline

It is an established principle in labour law that an employer cannot impose more than one penalty for the same offence – but what constitutes a penalty? That was the issue at the heart of Collège Boréal, an arbitral award released on July 23, 2015, where an employee appeared to receive two sanctions for the same event.

The grievor was tasked with accompanying college students at a hockey tournament in Toronto, where several incidents involving alcohol consumption and on-ice altercations took place. Upon returning to the College, the grievor failed to disclose these events. After meeting with his supervisor, he was advised, by email, that a note would be placed on his employee file due to his lack of judgment. Roughly two weeks later, the grievor was placed on administrative suspension, and terminated shortly thereafter.

During the hearing, the employer argued that the supervisor’s email did not constitute discipline, and therefore, the College was not barred from imposing a subsequent penalty – in this case termination. In assessing whether the email constituted discipline, Arbitrator Kathleen O’Neil applied “an objective interpretation”, without “placing emphasis on the intention” of the supervisor. The email was deemed disciplinary and therefore, the employer was barred from imposing a second disciplinary sanction for the same events. The Arbitrator nonetheless added supplemental discipline for events that were not properly covered by the email.

The grievor was ultimately reinstated.

OPSEU, Local 672, was represented by Wassim Garzouzi of Raven, Cameron, Ballantyne & Yazbeck LLP.