Firefighter reinstated despite criminal conviction

The man was found guilty of possessing stolen goods but a B.C. arbitrator has ruled his dismissal unjust.

Firefighter reinstated despite criminal conviction
A firefighter who was convicted of possessing stolen goods has won his job back after a B.C. arbitrator ruled there was not a strong enough connection between the man’s crime and his employment duties.

Benjamin Taffy Williams had worked as a firefighter for 11 years and enjoyed a pristine employment record before he was arrested for knowingly holding a stolen boat.

Williams had purchased a boat and trailer for $9,500 from a fellow firefighter despite it being worth approximately $30,000 and behaved suspiciously when the RCMP contacted him.

Officers phoned Williams and asked to visit his property in order to investigate a tip that a stolen boat was being stored there – within minutes, the 39-year-old hooked the boat and trailer up to his car and began towing it away from his property.

However, the RCMP has William’s property under surveillance and arrested him shortly after.

Initially, Williams lied to the police about how he had attained the goods as well as their cost but eventually admitted that he bought the boat from a fellow firefighter for much less than its worth.

Despite this, Williams refused to admit he knew the boat was stolen but suggested he "had an inkling in the pit of his stomach" about the sale being illicit.

His employer investigated the matter and Williams was placed on leave after admitting to the arrest. He also disclosed his attempt to flee with the boat and, trusting Williams was bring forthright, the Prince George Fire Department allowed him to come back to work with conditions.

However, after the trial and eventual verdict, the fire department went on to terminate Williams, pointing to comments made by the judge about Williams’ credibility, dishonesty, and lack of judgement as well as the negative publicity that had come as a result of the case.

Now, a B.C. arbitrator has ordered the fire department to reinstate Williams, insisting its decision to terminate was excessive. She noted that, in cases where employers wanted to dismiss a worker for conduct outside of the workplace, there was an onus on the employer to show that:
  1. The employee’s conduct harmed the employer's reputation or product
  2. The employee’s  behaviour renders the employee unable to perform his duties satisfactorily
  3. The employee’s behaviour leads to refusal, reluctance or inability of the other employees to work with him
  4. The employee has been guilty of a serious breach of the criminal code and thus rendering his conduct injurious to the general reputation of the employer and its employees
  5. The conduct causes difficulty in the way the employer properly carries out its function of efficiently managing its works and efficiently directing its working force
“The arbitrator found there was no direct link between the misconduct and [Williams’] duties,” says leading employment lawyer Jeff Bastien. “There was no suggestion he could not be trusted to do his firefighting duties.

“The arbitrator accepted that it was an isolated incident by an employee with a pristine work record, not likely to be repeated. Moreover, he was not in a fiduciary position, and his duties did not expose him to the temptation of greed,” continued the Dentons associate.

“In short, the arbitrator concluded that there was an insufficient nexus between the Grievor's misconduct and his duties to warrant termination.”

While the arbitrator did order reinstatement, she declined to award wages, seniority or benefits from the date of termination to the date of reinstatement.

“Criminal convictions in and of themselves may not justify termination of an employee on the basis of dishonesty and lack of trust,” warned Bastien.

“Despite findings of misconduct in criminal proceedings, employers terminating for cause must establish that the misconduct actually relates in more than a general manner to the duties to be performed by the employee.”

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