Tribunal upholds firing of B.C. poultry worker for violating COVID-19 household exposure policy

A group of chickens. Photo: Korhan_Oztunc/Getty Images/Canva

A British Columbia poultry processor had just cause to fire a worker who showed up for work after one of his housemates tested positive for COVID during the pandemic, the Employment Standards Tribunal has ruled in upholding an earlier decision.

The worker, KC, was fired by Hallmark Poultry Processors for cause on Oct. 4, 2021. He had reported to work on Sept. 28, 2021, despite a company policy that barred anyone from entering the workplace if they shared a household with another person who had COVID-19 or was displaying symptoms.

COVID was a particular concern for the poultry processing industry because it had already resulted in numerous shutdowns due to outbreaks among workers.

On that day, KC was on a coffee break from his shift. He went to move his vehicle into the parking spot of another worker, with whom he lived, and was told that she just tested positive. KC returned to work and, after a few hours, told his supervisor he needed to undergo a COVID test and isolate while awaiting the results.

He took a test the following day and was negative. When he went to work on Oct. 4 with his negative test results, he was stopped before entering the facility and handed his termination papers.

The Director of Employment Standards reviewed the case and ruled that KC was fired for cause and was therefore not entitled to compensation for length of service. KC appealed that decision to the Employment Standards Tribunal.

Tribunal decision

KC’s appeal was dismissed based on Section 114(1) of the Employment Standards Act (ESA). The section states that an appeal can be dismissed without a hearing if the tribunal determines there is no reasonable prospect for success.

In its ruling, the tribunal pointed out that KC’s actions constituted “serious misconduct,” providing just cause for termination in line with the ESA.

In his appeal, KC argued that he had worked only four hours after learning about his housemate’s positive test and that he showed no symptoms himself. He stated he was fully vaccinated and believed he was acting diligently by helping his team complete the shift.

But the tribunal said his decision to continue his shift, which he knew was in violation of the company’s COVID-19 safety plan, was “serious misconduct given the potential consequences to the health of other employees and the employer’s business.”

Similar rulings

It also noted that there were other cases where employers were found to have just cause in similar circumstances.

In Garda Security Screening Inc. v. IAM, District 140, [2020] O.L.A.A. No. 162, an Ontario arbitrator ruled that an employer was justified in dismissing an employee who came to work while awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test, thereby contravening the company’s guidelines on testing and isolation.

Similarly, in a case involving the Labourers’ International Union of North America, Ontario Provincial District Council and Labourers’ International Union of North America, Local 183 v Aecon Industrial (Aegon Construction Group Inc.), 2020 CanLII 91950 (ON LA), another Ontario arbitrator determined that an employer had just cause to terminate an employee who reported to work while showing COVID-19 symptoms, despite being explicitly told to stay home.

For more information, see Kua Yung Chao (Re), 2023 BCEST 67 (CanLII).