Just Cause: Discipline Must Be Fair

“Just Cause” may be the single biggest difference between working union and non-union. Without a union, you have very few legal protections. You can be disciplined or terminated for almost any reason, or for no reason at all. With a union contract, on the other hand, your employer cannot discipline you without “just cause.”

Through years of legal precedent seven criteria have been established that an employer must meet for a discipline to be considered just cause:

  • Did the employee being disciplined know that they were committing an infraction? Rules or policies must be made clear to people so that they know they can get in trouble for violating them. If fair warning was not provided, the discipline should not stand.
  • Were the rules, orders and discipline applied evenhandedly and without discrimination? Rules cannot be selectively enforced just on certain employees. If enforcement has been lax in the past, management cannot suddenly begin to crack down without first warning employees. If the discipline is not based on a rule that applies to everyone at all times, then it should not stand.
  • Was the employee afforded due process during management’s investigation and decision making about the discipline? Employers are obligated to tell an employee what they’re being accused of, confronting them with the evidence and giving them a chance to respond.
  • Did the employer investigate completely and fairly before imposing the discipline? Employers are obligated to do a proper investigation before deciding to discipline. They must be objective during the investigation. If management jumped to a conclusion before looking at all the facts, the discipline should not stand.
  • Did the employer produce substantial evidence or proof of guilt? The burden of proof is on management to show that some infraction was committed. If they cannot provide clear and convincing evidence to justify the discipline, it should not stand.
  • Was the employer’s rule or order reasonably related to the efficient and safe operation of the facility? A discipline not related to the actual work of the facility should not stand.
  • Was the discipline reasonably related to the seriousness of the offense and the employee’s past record and length of service? The punishment must fit the crime. A discipline that is too severe, especially in light of a good overall work record for the employee, should not stand.

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