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Stopping a robbery might cost you your job!

The video circulated shows him pushing down the robber, who was reportedly drunk, and punching him a number of times. Ultimately he restrained the perpetrator until the police arrived.

What we cannot see is the extent to which the criminal was fighting back from the floor.

 But it is unlikely that the employee lost his job because of the punches. It is likely that he was terminated because he engaged in any physical confrontation with the robber at all.

 In banks and many other businesses where robberies are more frequent, there are usually fairly strict protocols governing how employees react. Those protocols are meant to protect the safety of employees. The Occupational Health & Safety Act is becoming more and more strict and enforced. Recently, two directors of a corporation were sentenced to jail as a result of injuries suffered in the workplace that a judge decided could have been avoided with proper management.

 Assuming that the convenience store had a policy or protocol in the first place they would be taking a perilous path if they did not enforce it. 

 If they were perceived by employees not to really be enforcing the policy and a month later another employee decided to physically confront a robber and was hurt, company management might very well be charged for not enforcing its policy.

 There has been some speculation that these rules are to protect the employer from lawsuits from injured robbers. That speculation comes from watching too much American television. I am not going to say it’s impossible, but one would be very hard pressed to find a judge in the land who would award money to a criminal such as this except in the most extraordinary of circumstances.

Convenience store clerks are not unionized. If this gentleman was unionized he could challenge his termination through a grievance and an arbitrator would decide whether or not he should be reinstated with back pay.

 If this was an employee with an otherwise good work history who simply made a bad call in the heat of being threatened and robbed, he would have succeeded in this grievance. The arbitrator might have imposed a suspension without pay for a week or two but still reinstated him to employment.

When you’re not in a union, the employer can fire you for any reason that does not violate a statute. That means if they decide they don’t like your personality or the colour of your shoes, they are free to terminate you. They don’t need a good reason or in fact any reason. If there is just cause for your termination, meaning that you did something really awful or repeatedly and willfully disobeyed directives, you get nothing. If there is not just cause, the employee is entitled to the minimum payments under the Employment Standards Act and judge-awarded reasonable notice.

We don’t know whether this convenient store clerk was given any pay in lieu of notice or not but if he filed a complaint with the Ministry of Labour within six months of the date of his termination, for the reasons I have discussed above, I think he would win.

Alternatively, if he hired a lawyer to pursue the matter he could get more than the Employment Standards Act minimums but that only makes sense if he had significant seniority to make it worthwhile.

If  this employee had a good work history, the company could have enforced its policy by suspending him for a period of time without pay and giving him a stiff warning letter letting him know that if it ever happened again he would be immediately terminated without notice. It did not need to fire him to be seen to be enforcing the policy.

Employers are always well advised to take ten breaths before letting the axe fall and consider all the options.


Ed Canning practices labour and employment law with Ross & McBride LLP, in Hamilton, representing both employers and employees. You can email him at ecanning@rossmcbride.com.

Ed Canning
Ed Canning
P: 905.572.5809