A recent case making the headlines was the publication of charges against two paramedics for ‘failing to provide the necessities of life’ to an injured person. These charges stemmed from the tragic death of that person, who was a young man acting as a Good Samaritan during a violent incident in Hamilton, Ontario at the end of December 2017.
A week after receiving the criminal charges, the two paramedics were terminated from their employment as first-responders with the City of Hamilton. As these paramedics are represented by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), their union issued a very strong public statement vowing to challenge the termination of employment through the grievance procedure.
As noted in the reaction from OPSEU representative, Mario Posteraro, the union has taken the position that the rationale for terminating these two employees is both precedent setting and unjust. From the employer side, while there is very little fact-based information provided by the City of Hamilton, it seems that an internal investigation was completed by the employer, resulting in a decision to terminate employment.
From a process perspective, what this case makes clear is that there can and should be multiple investigations, findings, and results when a serious work-related incident takes place. We’ve already seen that there are criminal charges, resulting in criminal court proceedings. In addition, there are now civil proceedings underway, stemming from the decision to terminate the employment of the two paramedics. The latter will follow the grievance process outlined in the collective agreement between the City of Hamilton and the OPSEU bargaining unit representing the paramedics.
Both proceedings (criminal and civil) run parallel to each other as separate processes with potentially different outcomes. The criminal charges may be dismissed, or they may result in a criminal conviction. In either case, the grievance procedure will follow its own path and, if no resolution is reached, an arbitration hearing will take place. The criminal proceedings and possible results may have no bearing on the outcome of the grievance and arbitration procedures. The arbitration hearing will determine whether or not the termination of employment was justified, based on the facts and evidence arising from the employer’s investigation into the workplace conduct of the two paramedics. If the evidence supports the employer’s decision to end the employment relationship for just cause, it will be upheld. If it does not, the termination of employment may be dismissed. If the termination is not upheld, the terminated employees may be returned to work, or be awarded whatever remedy the union would want in this case.
Time will tell how these processes will play out. No matter what the outcomes are, this is a difficult and challenging case that may never see a satisfactory resolution, given the tragic loss of life and the events that unfolded as a result.
As the HR practitioner for this case, would you advise that the paramedics be terminated from employment? Explain your rationale.
Identify the rationale for filing a grievance from the union’s perspective.
If you were the union representative in this case, what is the best outcome you would hope to achieve for the two terminated employees whom you represent through the grievance process?