Vernon firefighter’s job safe after city loses appeal

Labour relations board rules in favour of firefighters union, says city did not prove its case

A Vernon Fire Rescue Services member will keep his job after having had sex with a colleague in the fire chief’s office.

The B.C. Labour Relations Board (BCLRB) has dismissed the city’s appeal of a decision to reinstate the firefighter.

The two city employees, a fire captain and a dispatcher, were fired in March 2018 for having sex in the workplace while on duty, and the “consensual sexual activity” had been caught on a surveillance camera in the chief’s office that had been put there on another matter.

READ MORE: City of Vernon appeals fire captain reinstatement order

A year later, the city was ordered to reinstate the pair by a majority of a three-member arbitration board that had been put together to hear a grievance filed by the B.C. International Association of Firefighters.

READ MORE: City of Vernon, firefighters dispute surveillance camera

The board panel suggested the pair’s firing was excessive and instead proposed a four-month suspension as well as a temporary demotion for the captain. Both were reinstated.

The city did not seek a review of the determination of the award that the dispatcher should be reinstated with a disciplinary suspension, but wanted to set aside the determination the captain be reinstated with a disciplinary suspension, saying such a move is “inconsistent with the principles expressed in or implied in the (Labour Relations) Code in failing to uphold termination.”

The city also said it was denied a fair hearing.

The B.C. Labour Relations Board disagreed.

“I find the employer has not established a basis to set aside the award under Section 99 (Labour Relations Code),” wrote BCLRB vice-chair Karen Jewell in her seven-page decision. “I am not persuaded the award is inconsistent with Code principles or that the employer was denied a fair hearing.”

The firefighters’ union acknowledged that the city had “just and reasonable cause” to discipline the pair, but said “dismissal was excessive” and proposed a four-month disciplinary suspension for both with additional consequences for the captain, who was reinstated on terms that included a five-month disciplinary suspension with no compensation for lost wages, but no loss of seniority or benefits. The terms also included a three-year temporary disciplinary demotion to the rank of firefighter.

The city appealed, arguing that the panel board “did not provide any reasoned basis for concluding the employment relationship could be restored in light of the nature of the misconduct, dishonesty at an investigation meeting (both parties were “evasive and not forthright in their interview the next day over the sexual encounter”), the past record (captain had previously served a recent three-day suspension for engaging in bullying and harassment of a fellow firefighter) and dishonesty under oath at arbitration, including a failure to accept full responsibility.

The full BCLRB decision can be found here.


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