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EMPLOYEE RELATIONS CONSULTING
TERMINATION WAS NOT THE ANSWER
Written by Matt Sciangula, RPR, CMP, RPT
For obvious reasons of confidentiality this story will not contain the name of the company or any persons involved, the industry or the year for which the incident occurred.
Years ago I was approached by a small business owner that had a serious employee relations issue on his hands. He explained that an employee of his was reported to have been drinking to the point of intoxication with a group of his regular customers while on shift. The report came from another customer who witnessed these events occur three times in the past two months. However, no reports or complaints from other staff or other customers had ever been filed, and this employee has had no previous disciplinary issues; it's important to mention that this business did not have a formal disciplinary process, or policy and procedure manual. After the business owner answered a few of my questions regarding any evidence, security cameras, disclosed addiction issues or discussions with his employees regarding drinking on the job, it was clear that an investigation into the reported incident must occur.
As I provided various options of how we could conduct the investigation, the business owner simply stated that he's going to have a "heart to heart" with the employee and "set him straight". A few days later I received a call back from the business owner. He seemed indifferent, and after he explained what had happened during his conversation with the employee, I understood. He explained to me that during the conversation the employee disclosed that he was struggling with an alcohol addiction, which was a coping mechanism for the serious depression that he had fallen into. The reason for this significant and serious situation was a result of a friend (a friend that was part of the group of customers that were reported to have been drinking with him on shift) committing suicide about two months ago. The business owner seemed genuinely concerned, however not at all willing to provide any accommodations or assistance to the employee as I had recommended. His decision was to let this employee go. I asked why he felt that termination was the answer and he narrowly stated "I've dealt with basket cases like this before and I'm not interested in becoming a psychiatrist again, so I'm just going to offer him some money so he can leave and get his act together". I strongly advised against his decision and informed him that this could lead to serious consequences. Needless to say, the business owner offered the employee money and the employee took it.
One month later the business owner called me and explained to me that he received a letter that indicated that he was being sued for wrongful dismissal, negligence, and violation of the Human Rights Code. It seemed that the employee who was struggling with an alcohol addiction, as a result of a serious mental health condition caused by a catastrophic event, used the money that the owner offered him to "go away" to engage in behaviours that led to hospitalization. At this point there was nothing I could do for the owner, so I recommended that he seek the assistance of a very good lawyer.
After several months had past I had finally heard that the business owner had settled for an amount over $20,000.00. Thankfully the past employee got the help he needed and made a full recovery. The point of this story is not about a comparison of costs - pay out vs. investigation fee or accommodations, it's about empathy, compassion and a sense of duty. If this business owner had only demonstrated any one of those sentiments, a young man could have avoided being hospitalized and a strong sense of culture and respect would have been cultivated.
In this case, and in many others, HR did matter.
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