{UPDATE} Off-Duty Conduct and Discipline: The FHRITP Case

In May 2015 we wrote on a major news story about off-duty conduct coming out of Toronto:

This week a media firestorm was sparked over comments made by a Hydro One employee (Shawn Simoes) to Shauna Hunt, a CityNews Television Reporter, outside a Toronto F.C. game. Shortly after the televised exchange, Hydro One made the decision to terminate Simoes' employment.

As we noted at the time, while Mr. Simoes' public conduct was abhorrent, it was not clear that Hydro One had just cause to fire its employee for actions not directly tied to the workplace.

This week, Mr. Simoes was back in the news. According to the CBC:

Hydro One says it has rehired an employee it fired for a comment he made in support of a friend who yelled obscenities at a female reporter during a live television interview.

Daffyd Roderick, Hydro One's director of corporate affairs, released a statement on Monday confirming Shawn Simoes has been rehired.

"There is an arbitration process in place. Hydro One made its views very clear," he wrote.

"This matter was resolved through the arbitration process. We will not comment any further on the matter."

From what little information is available, it is unclear whether Hydro One was ordered to reinstate Mr. Simoes by an arbitrator or whether the company negotiated a deal to that effect. Either way the Hydro One FHRITP Case should serve as a cautionary tale for employers.

The legal concept of just cause for termination (which is code for being able to dismiss a worker due to misconduct without the need to pay severance) is among the most complex and nuanced areas of employment law. Where situations of public relations and law mix, such as in this case, we advise employers not to act in haste.

There is a wide range of tools available to employers in such situations, including the implementation of a suspension pending the results of an investigation. This approach allows for a strong public response, while providing the time necessary to ensure defensible business decisions are made.

If you have recently lost your job due to alleged off-duty conduct, or you are an employer trying to navigate an incident of this kind, please contact us directly at: 613-238-4430 or info@vwlawyers.ca.