City of Vernon ordered to re-hire employees fired for firehall hanky panky

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Vernon told to reinstate fired fire department staff
Watch: An arbitration panel has ruled two Vernon fire department employees should be reinstated. The pair were fired almost a year ago after hooking up in the fire chief’s office. However, the decision is not going over well at city hall. – Mar 19, 2019

Two employees that were fired last year for engaging in sexual activity while at work must be re-hired by the City of Vernon, a B.C. Labour Arbitration panel has ruled.

The two employees, whom Global News is choosing not to identify, were caught engaging in “a brief episode of consensual sexual activity” by “video footage surreptitiously set up for other reasons,” said part of the 61-page decision by the Labour Relations ruling that was issued on March 15.

According to the labour ruling, the two employees were a fire captain and a dispatcher, with video capturing their liaison in the fire chief’s office. The video was reportedly viewed the next day by the interim fire chief and others in management.

READ MORE: Surveillance video catches two Vernon firefighters engaging in sexual activity in fire chief’s office

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The following day, the two were fired, prompting a union grievance. The B.C. International Assocation of Fire Fighters (IAFF) argued that while the city had just and reasonable cause to discipline both employees, the firings were excessive.

The labour ruling ultimately said “we conclude dismissal was an excessive disciplinary response in all of the circumstances.”

On Tuesday, the city issued a press release outlining its position on the ruling. The city noted that the fire captain “had previously served a recent three-day suspension for engaging in bullying and harassment of a fellow firefighter.”

“Our emergency personnel have a duty to serve our taxpayers and respond with all due diligence, not to be distracted from their duties by engaging in sexual relations in the fire hall when on shift,” said City of Vernon chief administrative officer Will Pearce.

“Lives depend on rapid response. Engaging in sexual activity rather than managing the platoon is absolutely unacceptable.

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“I am most disappointed in the majority decision. It sends entirely the wrong message to fire personnel across the country and to staff of the City of Vernon. It is not now and will never be acceptable or ethical for a direct supervisor to engage in a sexual relationship with junior and subordinate staff.

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“The City of Vernon has an employee code of ethics, known by both employees, that requires staff to maintain the highest ideals of honor and integrity in public and business relationships and not to act in any way that would detract from the image of integrity or professionalism of the City of Vernon.”

“I extend my apologies to the citizens of Vernon for the behavior of these two people. Our staff, with few exceptions, are dedicated to high standards of service, ethics, integrity, and honesty. These two individuals do not reflect the professionalism of the proud public servants who work for the city.”

According to the labour ruling, the incident between the captain and dispatcher took place on Sunday, March 25, 2018. The ruling said there was “intimate, playful physical contact” and that they were joyful and clearly having fun, but watchful, separately glancing out the office door.”

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A tan line was revealed and exploration was commenced but abruptly stopped. They kissed again in an embrace for 10 seconds, then they stood apart and both left the office. The ruling said “the entire elapsed time was 88 seconds.”

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Notably, the union applied to anonymize the employees’ names and identities, but that application was dismissed.

“Having their misconduct known and published in this decision is undoubtedly embarrassing for each and has had and might have consequences for them at home and elsewhere,” said the ruling.

“However, we conclude there is no exceptional personal privacy circumstances or persuasive labour relations reason in this situation that justifies departing from the “open court” principle. The union’s application is denied.”

READ MORE: Firefighter in sex scandal faces discipline, keeps job

The fire captain was to be re-hired with no loss of seniority or benefits; there was to be no compensation for lost wages; a disciplinary suspension of five months was to be placed on his employment record, he was to undergo a temporary disciplinary demotion of rank until Feb. 1, 2022, when he will be reinstated to the rank of captain; and a prohibition of acting in or applying for promotion to a higher rank than 1st class firefighter until Feb. 1, 2021.

The dispatcher, who was slated to lose her job in October, will not be compensated for lost wages. She was, however, “to be reinstated without loss of seniority or service solely to have the employer compensate her for the severance or any other payment she would have received when her job terminated because the dispatch function was contracted out.”

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Pearce added he’s of the opinion that the arbitration board erred in its decision, and that the city is exploring a range of options.

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