Newsletter Sign Up

In The News

Canada's Leaders in Employment & Labour Law




In Wettlaufer killings, we can fault the union and the nursing home: Howard Levitt



Bad unions and timorous employers — a lethal combination, literally.

Management at the nursing home where she worked had concerns about Elizabeth Wettlaufer’s state of mind for years before they finally fired her. In August 2011, it was recommended she take a leave of absence because of her conduct. She refused and the nursing home did not press the issue. The result? She went on to kill three patients, having already killed two in 2007. In August 2012, management considered reporting her to her licensing body based on “unfitness to practice,” which would have ended her career. Again, it backed down. She killed two more patients before her dismissal in February 2014.

Why did the company not proceed earlier? Because it knew that the irresponsible and trigger-happy union would grieve. Carressant Care felt it could not afford to pay the legal expenses of fighting the grievances — and potentially also pay Wettlaufer back pay if it lost the arbitration. These were funds it required for its patients, it claimed. When Carressant finally fired her, she had so many instances of accumulated misconduct that, when the home sent in the termination form to the College of Nurses of Ontario, it ran out of space on the form.

Predictably, the union grieved her dismissal. Rather than fighting it, Carressant Home paid Wettlaufer $2,000 and gave her a letter of reference. What did the nursing home write about its in-house serial killer? That she was a “good problem solver with strong communication skills” and further lied that she had “left to pursue other opportunities.”

As well as being an object lesson as to some of the difficulties with unionization in this country, this is a cautionary tale about letters of reference. If she had not been arrested and charged with first-degree murder and other offences, she doubtless would have found another job and, based on her pattern, continued her killing spree. Then, the new employer and the families of the other victims would have had an excellent case against Carressant and the individuals who provided and authored the false reference. It might even have an action against the union for conspiracy for its participation and co-operation in this sham.

Employers should be cautious when providing false references. They are prepared for the very purpose of being relied upon. When they are false and damages result, there are legal consequences.

Carressant Care might have avoided much of this by reasonable due diligence. Wettlaufer had twice been to rehab for alcohol and opioid addiction.

It is often too easy to resolve disputes in part through a letter of reference, but the consequences can be very significant.

If an employee deserves a positive reference, by all means provide one. The court can impose damages against employers who refuse to provide a deserved reference in the context of a dismissal case. However, if an employee deserves a negative reference, silence can be golden.

 

Read article on National Post



Share This Article :