By: Christopher Nardi
Via The National Post

Jeff Reid was fired when the company found out he failed to report the symptoms and called the situation a ‘joke’ on social media, an arbitrator said

Going to work with undeclared COVID-like symptoms can derail your career, a now former Canadian Pacific train conductor learned the hard way.

Show up to work with COVID-19 symptoms for days, dismiss your colleagues’ concerns, make “jokes” about it on social media, and you’re eligible to be dismissed even if you end up testing negative, according to a new arbitration ruling.

On March 24, 2020, just weeks after COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic and the world was on high alert, CP conductor Jeff Reid went to work to conduct a train from Winnipeg to Brandon, Man., with a cough.

The day before, Quebec and Ontario had just announced they were shutting down all non-essential businesses for the first time to curb COVID-19 transmission and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau exhorted all Canadians, particularly those with COVID-like symptoms, to “stay home.”

A colleague expressed concern about Reid’s cough, but Reid “dismissed” it, swearing he was “just getting over a cough” and noting that he was a longtime smoker, according to a newly released arbitration ruling dated June 6.

But days before on Facebook, Reid wrote that he was “showing every symptom for the ‘Chinese virus,’ ” parroting a term used by then-U.S. President Donald Trump referring to COVID-19. At the same time, he’d also called Manitoba Health Link to ask for a COVID-19 test appointment because he was living with his elderly father, the ruling notes.

The combination of social media posts and COVID-like symptoms pushed at least one colleague on March 24 to contact CP management because he was concerned for his and his family’s health

The next day, on March 25, Reid contacted CP Rail’s Pandemic Line, reporting symptoms of the virus: “shortness of breath, headache, cough, fever, runny nose.” He also received a COVID-19 test and was told to self-isolate.

While leaving the testing building, he was approached by a CBC reporter who quoted him as saying that he “became short of breath” and “coughed” after travelling to the United States but that he “doesn’t think he has COVID-19.” He was also quoted as saying he guessed he would isolate from friends and family while waiting for test results.

At the same time, CP ordered four other employees to isolate because they came in close contact with him after his symptoms first appeared, the ruling says.

Reid ended up testing negative for COVID-19 and was cleared to return to work on April 10.

On April 24, CP fired him.

That’s because while Reid waited for his test results, the company caught wind of how he had gone to work many times with COVID-like symptoms, failed to report them, and made light of the situation on social media as a “joke,” reads the ruling by arbitrator Tom Hodges.

CP had put out at least two notices to employees warning them to be careful about exposing colleagues to COVID-19.

“The investigation established that (Reid) reported to work while showing signs and symptoms of COVID-19, failed to self-isolate and failed to contact the CP Pandemic Line before reporting for duty on March 24, 2020, placing numerous employees at risk,” reads the ruling.

But Reid and his union, the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, grieved the dismissal, arguing that the investigation was not “fair and impartial,” that Reid’s firing was “unjustified and excessive” and that he shouldn’t be disciplined at all.

During the proceedings, the union argued that Reid’s comments on social media were a “joke,” that at no time did he think he had COVID-19 and that he only told the CP pandemic hotline about having symptoms because he wanted to get a test to reassure his elderly father.

But the arbitrator found that Reid’s answers during the one-day investigation were “alarming” particularly “given the realities of the pandemic at the time.”
He noted they “were often vague or stating that he did not remember” and that he sometimes “contradicted… his own public statements.”
The arbitrator decided that Reid’s version was neither “credible or reliable” and upheld the dismissal.

“I find (Reid’s) actions had resulted in a number of employees being forced to isolate. As the Conductor reporting the incident noted the affected employees also had families and others they
may have come in contact (with),” Hodges concluded, referring to the colleague conductor Reid worked with on March 24.

“He minimized the legitimate concerns for coworkers. I find he repeated his misconduct multiple times over several days. He tried to minimize and justify his actions and comments as a joke. He repeatedly provided misleading information to minimize his actions,” he continued, adding that his “failure to be accountable” disqualified him from returning to a “safety critical position.”

Neither CP nor Teamsters Canada Rail Conference responded to requests for comment by deadline Thursday.