Car accident in lot bad, but not worthy of dismissal

Truck with fogged-up windows in fender bender with trailer in company parking lot
|Canadian Employment Law Today|Last Updated: 07/31/2012

An Ontario worker who crashed a truck into a trailer in a plant parking lot during inclement weather was guilty of misconduct, but not serious enough to warrant dismissal, an arbitrator has ruled.

Michael Moore was a leadhand siteworker for Quality Engineered Homes, a residential home manufacturer based in Kenilworth, Ont. Through six years of service with Quality, Moore had a record free of disciplinary issues.

On Jan. 3, 2011, Moore was driving a van around the plant area. It was a cold day and he had to defrost the windshield with heat and washer fluid. After taking some garbage out, Moore began driving over to the warehouse to pick up building materials. However, after he stopped to put out the garbage, the van’s windshield fogged up.

As Moore drove around the building to the back of the lot, the windshield remained fogged up and he applied more fluid. He came to an area where the company kept nodules on wheels stored. Moore saw the nodules from the passenger-side window as he passed them, he saw trailers behind them. He estimated there was still some distance to the trailers, so he sprayed washer fluid on the windshield again as he slowly moved alongside the building.

However, as Moore cleaned the window, he continued to drive and the van struck a large trailer that was sticking out more than the other ones.

Moore reported the accident to the maintenance supervisor and the site operations manager. He stated there were problems with the windshield washer fluid, the windshield kept fogging over and he couldn’t see where he was going when he hit the trailer. Moore also filled out an accident report that indicated the cause was “windows not defrosted” and the proper course of action was to “let windows defrost.” He was given another vehicle to continue his work for the rest of the day.

The next day, Quality decided to terminate Moore’s employment for causing a serious accident that damaged the van and could have seriously injured or killed someone. It felt the accident was preventable and Moore’s poor judgment put the company’s assets and employees in danger. Moore accepted responsibility for the accident and knew the company’s safety expectations. The union grieved the termination and Quality agreed to reinstate Moore on May 16, 2011, treating the four-month gap in his employment as an unpaid disciplinary suspension and final warning.

The arbitrator agreed that Moore engaged “in culpable misconduct materially contributing to the accident,” despite his awareness of known safety expectations. However, his six years of discipline-free service warranted more progressive discipline, said the arbitrator. In addition, Moore accepted responsibility and acknowledged that he would take proper steps in the future to ensure a similar accident would not occur.

The arbitrator rescinded the suspension and substituted a two-week suspension instead. See Quality Engineered Homes Ltd. v. U.S.W., Local I-500, 2012 CarswellOnt 6494 (Ont. Arb. Bd.).