Former Bay Roberts employee cries foul over termination
Employee says she was fired while on sick leave
A former employee with the Town of Bay Roberts says she was wrongfully terminated by the town’s chief administrative officer (CAO).
Paula Bowering, a non-unionized employee, had been employed with the municipality since 2006 as a clerk receptionist. She told The Compass she had never been reprimanded for anything.
On April 29, Bowering had seen her doctor, who took her off work for medical reasons.
“(The doctor) put me off for one month,” Bowering said in an interview Wednesday, May 27. “I didn’t want to go off work, but I did.”
She sent a photo of the medical documentation to CAO Nigel Black through text mes- sage because he was out of town. She sent the photo with a message saying she would work Friday, May 1, and then would be on sick leave beginning May 4.
This was not the first time Bowering had taken some time off for health reasons. She said she had three surgeries the previous year and was off work for a period to recover.
A text message exchange then ensued between Bowering and Black. The Compass was given
screen shots from the conversation.
On the day she sent the doctor’s note, Black told Bowering the note would “not be adequate anymore” and she must provide more specific documentation.
Bowering asked what exactly she would need to provide since she did not believe it was necessary to give the specifics of private health matters.
“What is different now than last week? Do you want to work for the town or not? I won’t be doing any extra leave again,” the text from Black said.
He requested a meeting with her, which she declined.
“I have no choice. I love my job,” she texted. “It’s killing me to have to do this, but it’s my doctor’s orders…”
Because she was going to be off for longer than a week, she also required a record of employment (ROE) noting sick leave.
On Monday, May 4, Black reiterated his request for a meeting. Bowering refused.
On May 11, Bowering received a letter from Black informing her she had been relieved of her duties. The Compass has a copy of the letter.
In it, Black explains that he had wanted to meet with her to discuss making accommodations in the workplace as an alternative to her taking time off, and to discuss the town’s benefits and vacation policy and the details for leave as outlined in the Labour Standards Act.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, an employer is required to give seven days’ unpaid leave for medical issues, and a note is required for more than three days. However, the Canadian Labour Code says, “the employee is entitled to sick leave protection of up to 17 weeks if they have worked for the same employer for at least three consecutive months. The employee must provide a medical certificate if their employer requests one — in writing — within 15 days of the return to work.”
When Bowering received her record of employment, it said she had been dismissed from her position.
“I would like an apology and a fixed ROE,” Bowering told The Compass, her eyes filling with tears.
Bowering declined to specify her ailments to Black, saying it felt like a breach of her privacy. She also didn’t think she should have been asked to go to the office for a meeting while she was on sick leave.
The Compass has learned town council was made aware of Bowering’s termination after she received her letter May 11. She said she has only heard from one councillor regarding the situation.
As the CAO, Black is responsible for administrative tasks, which may include terminating employees. He follows guidelines set out by the council.
His role is clear in the Municipal Councillor’s Handbook.
“The town manager is responsible for the co-ordination, direction, and supervision of all municipal employees and departments, and has the authority to hire, discipline, suspend, or dismiss any council employee. It should be noted, however, that only council can hire, suspend, or dismiss the clerk or a department head.”
It does not specify if an employee can be terminated while on sick leave.
The Compass contacted Black for comment. He wouldn’t get into specifics, but he did provide a statement.
“The Town of Bay Roberts treats all personnel issues with confidentially, and as such I will not be discussing the specifics of this case with the media. I can confirm that Paula Bowering’s employment with the town was recently terminated. If the former employee feels they were wrongfully dismissed, unfairly treated or that the town’s actions were outside of its legislated responsibilities, then that employee should take the appropriate legal action to challenge or question the town’s action.”
Bowering said if she does not receive an updated ROE and an apology from the town, she will likely seek legal advice and possibly file a complaint for unjust dismissal.
The government of Canada confirms an ROE is “the single most important document used for establishing a claim for employment insurance benefits.”
Bowering said she believes she did nothing wrong in refusing to go to the town office while on sick leave or providing her employer with a more detailed description of why she was taking time off. She also believes that, since she was on sick leave, her job should have been protected, especially without other prior notice or discipline.
“I loved my job,” she said. “I have never been fired from a job in my life.”
A former employee with the Town of Bay Roberts believes she was wrongfully terminated last month.