Job Restored with Back Pay

LEXINGTON PARK, Md., June 10 — Helen Ford, a 27-year veteran of the Chesapeake Shores skilled nursing home facility in Lexington Park, Md., won back her job—and lost wages—after an independent arbitrator ruled in her favor in a grievance filed over her dismissal.

Ford, a housekeeping assistant, was terminated on August 2, 2010, two days after an incident in which a fellow employee threatened her, using a profanity, and she responded by repeating what he told her. United Food & Commercial Workers Local 400, which represents Chesapeake Shores employees, fought on her behalf.

In the incident in question, Ford and another housekeeping employee were engaged in an argument when, according to testimony offered during the arbitration, he told her, “I’m going to slap the [expletive] out of you.” In response, she said, “you’re not going to slap the [expletive] out of me.” After responding to the incident, the company fired her citing its “zero tolerance” policy against profanity.

Local 400 argued that mitigating circumstances should apply and arbitrator M. David Vaughn agreed. Ford had a spotless 27-year record of employment and no history of ever making disparaging remarks toward any nursing home resident or family member. In this situation, she simply stood up for herself and refused to be the subject of profane threats from another employee.

“A zero tolerance policy does not override the company’s obligation to prove just cause or absolve the company of its contractual obligation to consider mitigating circumstances as part of its just cause determination,” Vaughn wrote. He reduced the termination to a five-day suspension, reinstated her to her former position, and ordered that she be made whole for lost wages and benefits.