Author: Howard Levitt
Publication: National Post
“For insolence bears its fruit, a bushel of doom, from which it reaps a tear-filled harvest”
Aeschylus 525-426 BC
Eva Regdos was a Polish dentist who, like many immigrants, was unlicensedin Canada. Luckier than most, while taking an English course she met Gunter Vautz, a German immigrant who owned Atlantic Dental Laboratories. Unable to communicate, she requested the job through their teacher. As often happens, relations proceeded uneventfully for 12 years. Then everything blew asunder.
Learning that her mother was dying, she flew home, leaving a message through her husband, without advising when she would return. Her mother passed away before she arrived. Returning to Sussex, N.B., a week later, she waited several days more before returning to work When informed that the extra time off would be unpaid, Regdos was furious. Following an altercation with a new co-worker, Mary Panasuk, Regdos asked for her paycheque, left the premises and forwarded a medical note requesting six weeks’ sickleave. In Regdos’ absence, Panasuk submitted a complaint about Regdos’ “cruel emotional harassment.” She alleged that Regdos mocked her, referred to Vautz as an “asshole” and encouraged her to leave. She related that, when her job was made fulltime, Regdos threatened to quit because Panasuk would be taking work from her. Following that, Regdos shunned her, speaking to her once daily only to inquire whether she had yet found other work. She even alleged that Regdos had tailgated her four times on a narrow two-lane road. She concluded “I had endured seven months of hell with her. To this day I still look in my mirror on my way to work to see if she is on my bumper”. Vautz was shocked. When Regdos announced her return, Vautz responded that they must first discuss her attitude to fellow employees. Regdos launched into an assault, telling Vautz that he was a “joke”, that others had resigned because of him and that people were laughing at him. She called Panasak a “piece of shit”. Vautz hung up. Regdos immediately called back and continued. Vautz had had it.
The court noted that a single incident of insolence can be grounds for dismissal if the parties can no longer work together. But if it occurs in the heat of the moment, insolence is unlikely to be cause. In this case, when Vautz hung up, she did not let up and, in the two days before she was fired, never called back to apologize. The court agreed that cause existed for Regdos’ dismissal. What should employers take from this case:
1) Provide employees an opportunity to respond to your allegations of cause so that the court can rely upon them. The earlier issues of cause were dismissed by the trial judge for this reason;
2) Do not rely upon only one incident of insolence unless it objectively destroys the relationship, undermines the supervisor’s credibililty in the workplace or prejudices business interests; and
3) Do not dismiss for insubordination which occurs in the heat of the moment.