Is Violation of a No-Jewellery Policy Grounds for Discipline?

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Like most companies, you may ban workers from wearing rings, necklaces, earrings and other jewellery at work. This policy is sensible, especially for workers working near machinery and equipment. After all, ensnarement of a dangling necklace or bracelet in the moving parts of a machine has cost more than one worker a finger, hand, limb or life. Unfortunately, some workers might regard the wearing of jewellery as a harmless form of self-expression and ignore the policy. Violation of a no-jewellery policy can be grounds for suspension or even termination. But, as is always the case with discipline, the punishment must fit the offence and be meted out in a way that respects the worker’s rights. Here are two cases in which a labour relations board had to evaluate the appropriateness of discipline under a no-jewellery policy. Although both are from Ontario, the same reasoning would apply in other provinces.

OK TO FIRE WORKER FOR WEARING EARRINGS

FACTS
A worker at a manufacturing plant wore earrings to work in defiance of the company’s no-jewellery policy. When she refused to remove them, she received a verbal warning. The next day, the worker again refused to remove her earrings. The company gave her a written warning and sent her home without pay. But the very next day, she showed up with her earrings on and refused to take them off. This time she was suspended for two days and warned in writing that further refusals would result in discipline up to and including termination. But the worker remained defiant, repeating her antics for the fourth day in a row. So the company fired her without notice or compensation in lieu of notice. The worker filed a demand for termination or severance pay, which was denied. So she appealed.

DECISION
The Ontario Labour Relations Board ruled that the worker wasn’t entitled to termination or severance pay.

EXPLANATION
The worker argued that the manufacturer’s no jewellery policy was unreasonable, noting that she’d worn earrings to work without incident for years. The Board refused to judge the reasonableness of the policy. But it did note that the policy was consistent with an OHS regulation that barred rings and jewellery or clothing that’s loose or dangling from being worn around certain equipment [Industrial Establishments Reg., Sec.83(2)]. And since the policy had a “substantial bearing on the employment relationship,” the worker’s refusal to comply with it was wilful misconduct. So the worker wasn’t entitled to termination or severance pay, the Board concluded.
[Scherling v. Martin Pet Foods, [2002] CanLII 20640 (ON L.R.B.), Feb. 18, 2002]

NOT OK TO SUSPEND WORKER FOR WEARING EARRINGS

FACTS
A manufacturing plant’s written jewellery policy quoted a regulation barring rings and jewellery or clothing that’s loose or dangling from being worn near rotating shafts, spindles, gears, belts or sources of entanglement. It then stated that no jewellery, including wedding bands, watches and hanging earrings, could be worn in the plant. On a Saturday, a worker wore a hoop earring to work. He refused to remove it for sentimental reasons. The worker said he’d be willing to wear a band-aid over the earring. But the supervisor told him that wasn’t acceptable. The supervisor warned the worker that if he wanted to work that day or the next, he had to remove the earring; otherwise, he could pursue the issue with HR on Monday. The worker left work and didn’t return on Sunday. He was given a “final warning” and suspended for two days.

DECISION
The Ontario Labour Relations Board ruled that suspension wasn’t warranted.

EXPLANATION
The Board didn’t condone the worker’s action, noting that he could have simply removed the earring for the weekend and then taken his complaint to HR on Monday. The Board also noted that other workers who had been asked to remove their earrings had complied. So the worker did deserve discipline. Still, suspension was too severe under the circumstances. There was no way the worker could have known that refusing to remove the earring would result in his suspension. The supervisor never warned him that he’d be suspended if he didn’t comply with the policy. And under the plant’s disciplinary policy, the worker should have been given a written warning first, the Board noted.
[Atchison v. Springs Canada Inc., [2006] CanLII 15388 (ON L.R.B.), April 27, 2004]