Enforcing zero tolerance policies

If employees have sufficient warning of the consequences of certain misconduct, can they be automatically dismissed if they're guilty of it?
By Brian Johnston
|Canadian Employment Law Today|Last Updated: 09/02/2015

Question: Are zero tolerance policies enforceable? If an employer makes it clear to employees that a certain type of misconduct will result in immediate dismissal, can that misconduct constitute just cause?

Answer: Yes, zero tolerance policies are enforceable as long as the adjudicative body (whether it is a court or an arbitrator) is satisfied that the breach of the policy occurred and the employee’s conduct constituted just cause for dismissal. In other words, just because the employer’s policy says it is so, it does not necessarily mean it is. The well-known KVP decision, Lumber & Sawmill Workers’ Union, Local 2537 v. KVP Co., contemplates that an employer can create offences for which discipline up to discharge are appropriate but ultimately the arbitrator has to be satisfied that the policy was “reasonable.”