Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Is the Super Bowl bad for the workplace?

I have heard varying figures on absence due to Super Bowl; one site states 7 million people will call in sick, another indicates that 1.5 million people will be absent from work and another 4.4 million will call in late;  the cost in lost production will be $820 million. That, of course, pales in comparison to the more than $11 billion that the Super Bowl injects into the economy.  The game itself is worth a billion dollars and is larger than the GDP of 25 countries. It’s a big deal. But is it big enough to warrant or excuse bad workplace behavior? 

Super Bowl XXXVII was played on January 26th, 2003 in San Diego between the Oakland Raiders and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  The Dixie Chicks sang the Anthem and Shania Twain played the half time show. Fred and Andrea Tesselar weren’t among the 88.6 million people who watched the event, but Fred’s boss Howard Bowling was.  That afternoon, in whiteout conditions outside of Sarnia, Ontario, Fred and Andrea were in a motor vehicle accident in the company vehicle. Andrea was driving.  They were on company business – Howard had called Fred at 7:00 a.m. that day telling him that a part was needed in Wheatley about two hours away. Fred had just come back from Wheatley and wasn’t happy about making the return trip again - -but Howard pleaded with Fred, because everyone else at the company was going to be at a Super Bowl party at Howard’s brother’s place.  After the accident Fred called to advise Howard, but the partying boss was in no mood to take the call.   

On Monday Howard advised Fred that he had to ask head office what to do about the accident, given that Andrea was driving the company vehicle.  Throughout the week Fred continued to ask what was happening, but Howard remained evasive.  Fred even offered to pay for the damage to the vehicle himself.  Eventually Fred was fired for his efforts. 

At some point after the termination, Fred died and Andrea brought a case to the Labour Board to obtain termination pay which hadn’t been provided to him.  The Board awarded the statutorily required 8 weeks and sought more information to determine the amount of severance pay entitlement that there would be (It would have been slightly more than the $8400 in notice).  The Board does not have jurisdiction to award damages for bad faith, or punitive damages, which might have been sought in a wrongful dismissal case.  

The law does provide that a claim for wrongful dismissal can be maintained by the estate of a deceased worker.  Had Fred’s estate brought a claim, the case may well have been worth $60,000 -- $100,000. That number is based on the provision of reasonable notice in the range of 10 months plus bad faith damages (which were more readily available in 2003 than today) and perhaps punitive damages.

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