In a recent Alberta decision, the court held that one incident of a paramedic’s poor performance at work was sufficient cause for his termination.

Employee Fails to Follow Guidelines

The employee was a qualified paramedic, who had been registered with the Alberta College of Paramedics since 2003. He began working for the employer, an oil sands facility in Alberta, in 2009. During his time with the employer, he received very positive feedback on his annual performance reviews.

However, in early 2015, the employee was called to deal with an on-site worker. When he arrived to check on the worker, he noted a facial droop, mild slurring of words and very mild decrease in strength to the left side. The employee believed the patient had likely sustained a stroke. The employee called an ambulance and accompanied the worker to a local medical clinic. They stopped at the clinic for half an hour until the worker was transported to a local hospital. The worker did not suffer any physical damage.

However, the employee had not followed the employer’s guidelines which required him to stabilize and immediately take any potential stroke patient to a stroke centre.

As a result, the employer conducted an investigation into the employee’s conduct that day. It ultimately determined that he had failed to meet the minimum standards of care required of a paramedic and had put the worker at risk of serious harm. It therefore terminated his employment.

The employee filed an unjust dismissal action with the court. While he acknowledged that his conduct had been a marked deviation from the required standards of practice for his profession, he submitted that his “unskilled practice” had been an isolated event and that it was his first finding of unskilled practice.

Court Upholds Employee’s Termination

In making its determination, the court applied the established framework for determining whether there is just cause for summary dismissal. The test requires a court to consider the following factors:

(1) the nature and extent of the misconduct;

(2) the surrounding circumstances (such as the nature of the employee’s work, the employer’s business and the degree of responsibility of the employee); and

(3) whether dismissal was warranted, which includes observing the principle of proportionality.

With regard to the nature and extent of the employee’s misconduct, the court held:

“It is indisputable [the employee] failed to follow the very clear requirements of his profession as a paramedic and the Guidelines of his employer. In the proceedings for the Alberta College of Paramedics, he agreed with the conclusion that his conduct “was a marked deviation from the required standards of practice for the profession of paramedicine in the province of Alberta.” […]

Suffice it to say the nature and extent of the misconduct was extremely serious.”

In addition, the court held that the surrounding circumstances aggravated the seriousness of the employee’s misconduct, because he was responsible for the well-being of thousands of employees and the possibility of serious harm was great.

Finally, the court considered whether the incident justified the employee’s termination, concluding:

“[The employer] was legally justified in its decision. The incident was a serious departure. It was made worse by the meritless excuses made by [the employee], none of which should have had credence with someone of his experience and training….This was not, as [the employee] argues, one case of poor judgment. It was a dereliction of his duties…”

In the result, the court therefore held that the employer had just cause for the employee’s termination and dismissed the employee’s claim.

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