Date: August 12th, 2011
Author: Daniel Lublin
Principle of “condonation” costs employer the case.
What happens to the workplace bully when he or she is fired for bullying?
Sharon Lynn Rodrigues, a manager at a Dairy Queen in Castlegar, B.C., was a very competent employee. But she was also a bully.
Rodrigues openly swore at work, referred to her staff as “stupid,” arrived late, took long breaks and did not hesitate to criticize other employees for their performance. When she was in a foul mood, she was miserable to be around, and co-workers accused her of being aggressive and verbally abusive. Even the restaurant’s owner was afraid to confront her.
Although Rodrigues saw many of the staff as friends, they did not see it that way. They found her difficult to work for and highly critical.
Rodrigues’s management style eventually caught up to her when complaints mounted to the restaurant’s owner, Tim Kenna. One employee even inquired about a harassment claim. In response, Kenna resolved to deliver the message in the form of a probationary letter, warning Rodrigues that her behaviour was intolerable and that unless it improved, she would be fired. Kenna then left the store.
In Kenna’s absence, Rodrigues launched a tired against him showing the letter to the staff and calling Kenna an idiot or a moron – or possibly worse. She even showed the letter to a customer. Eventually, she just left. The situation was extremely awkward for the staff and one of them threatened not to return to the store until the problem was resolved. When Kenna learned what happened, he fired her.
Out of a job of 16 years and without severance, Rodrigues sued. Amazingly, she was in luck. The legal doctrine of condonation provides that an employer cannot later rely on misconduct as grounds for discipline if no steps were taken to correct that behaviour when it first occurred. Here, Kenna made one crucial mistake. Although he was aware of the staff’s concerns, he stood by, never formally warning Rodrigues that her behaviour was unacceptable – until it was too late. Because of this, Rodrigues was wrongfully dismissed and awarded damages, proving that sometimes even bullies have rights.