MLSE worker who ignored employer for months, and then resurfaced asking for work, abandoned position: Arbitrator

A view inside Scotia Bank Arena in downtown Toronto, home of the Maple Leafs and Raptors. Photo: Ryan/Unsplash

A part-time worker for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) in Toronto who didn’t attend an orientation session and ignored repeated communications from his employer for months — before resurfacing and asking why he wasn’t getting shifts — abandoned his position, an arbitrator has ruled.

The grievor, represented by Teamsters Local 847, was employed for five years on a part-time basis at the Scotia Bank Arena in Toronto. He worked in MLSE’s conversion department, which was responsible for converting the venue for the appropriate event — for example, from hockey to basketball.

MLSE is the parent company of multiple sports teams in the city, including the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors.

On Aug. 5, 2021, he received a “welcome back” notice inviting him to return to work in anticipation of the upcoming NHL and NBA seasons. He was required to complete online training by Sept. 27, 2021.

The grievor responded and completed the training. But, according to MLSE, he did not attend a “Welcome Back” orientation on Sept. 25, 2021, that he was required to attend.

Vaccination policy

On Sept. 2, 2021, MLSE announced a new vaccination policy for its staff.

As of Nov. 1, 2021, employees would not be allowed to attend work unless they were fully vaccinated for COVID-19. Alternatively, they could submit a negative COVID test result in order to attend the employer’s premises.

MLSE advised employees to receive their second shot no later than Oct. 18, 2021, in order to be considered fully vaccinated by the Nov. 1 deadline. It also provided a secure portal to submit their vaccination status.

The grievor did not submit his vaccination status by Oct. 18, as required. On Oct. 19, MLSE reached out to him by email and asked him to submit his status. It also allowed him to seek an exemption from the vaccination either on human rights or religious grounds no later than Oct. 24.

The griever did not respond.

Availability for work

Staff at MLSE were required to submit their availability for work on the 18th of each month for the following month. The grievor did not submit his availability in either October or November.

On Nov. 2, 2021, MLSE sent him a registered letter asking him to attend a meeting on Nov. 10, 2021. He was told that, if he did not attend, MLSE would conclude he was abandoning his employment.

He did not respond to the letter nor attend the meeting.

Employee resurfaces

On Nov. 29, 2021, the grievor emailed MLSE and asked why he had not been notified of the availability of any shifts.

He was told that MLSE considered him to have abandoned his employment, and he filed a grievance alleging his seniority rights had been violated.

The hearing

At the hearing, he claimed he was not aware his attendance at the Welcome Back session in September was required. He also made it clear he did not think he should have to disclose his vaccine status to his employer, but never told MLSE of that position.

As for not letting the company know about his availability in October or November, he said that was because he was not told a schedule had been posted.

“He had no reasonable explanation as to why he did not check the workplace portal or why he did not contact the Employer earlier, particularly since he ought to have been aware that both the schedules for NHL and NBA events routinely start no later than early October in each year,” the arbitrator said. “He claims that he did not receive the letter of November 2 as he was away in New Brunswick at the time.”

He said it was never his intention to abandon his employment and that he wanted to continue working for MLSE.

But the arbitrator said the company was justified in concluding he had abandoned his job.

“Once the Employer communicated its vaccine policy the grievor showed no interest in not only continuing to be employed by the Employer, but even in communicating with the Employer,” it said. “He did not respond to requests to communicate regarding his vaccination status. He did not attempt to put himself on the schedule even before full implementation of the vaccine policy. He did not respond to the Employer’s request for a meeting.”

He only reached out to MLSE after it was clear it considered him to have abandoned his position. By that time, he had given “every indication” he was no longer interested in working at MLSE.

It ruled he quit his employment as of Nov. 10, 2021. The grievance was dismissed.

For more information, see Teamsters Local Union 847 v Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, 2023 CanLII 18102 (ON LA)