FDAR attorney Ben Albrecht recently secured a favorable arbitration decision for a County Sheriff’s Office. The issue before the Arbitrator was whether or not the Sheriff’s Office terminated the Grievant for just cause and if the Sheriff’s Office had properly followed the steps of progressive discipline.

The issue arose when the Grievant began reporting late for work. In the twelve months prior to her discharge, the Grievant had been late reporting for work at least eight times. The Grievant was disciplined for five of the instances including a verbal reprimand, two written reprimands, a two-day suspension, and a five-day suspension. Finally, when the Grievant was late for work for a ninth time, she was terminated.

At arbitration, the Union argued that the decision to terminate Grievant was not in the spirit of progressive discipline. Specifically, the union argued that Grievant should have been given a major suspension following her five-day suspension prior to her termination. The Union stated that the lack of major suspension meant that the Grievant was unaware of the seriousness of her repeated tardiness. Finally, the Union argued that termination was an excessive penalty for simply being a few minutes late for work.

The Arbitrator stated at the beginning of his decision that his role as a finder of fact was of limited use as both the Union and the Employer agreed that the Grievant was tardy for work on the day that lead to her termination. As a result, the Arbitrator’s role was to determine the reasonableness of the discipline imposed rather than the existence of a reason for discipline.

The Arbitrator held that the Sheriff’s Office properly moved the Grievant through the steps of progressive discipline, which served to put the Grievant on notice that her tardiness would not be overlooked. The Arbitrator stated that there are no hard-and-fast rules on what steps of progressive discipline must be taken before an employee can be terminated but that progressive discipline will, by its very nature, appear harsh as repeated minor infractions move through the steps. As a result, the Grievant’s termination was upheld.

The arbitration decision serves as a good reminder for employers with progressive discipline policies. If an employee begins committing repeated rule infractions, it is important to impose discipline which both sufficiently conveys the seriousness of the rule infraction and attempts to correct the behavior. If minor discipline – like verbal and written reprimands – do not work, then the employee should face more serious repercussions. It is also important to consistently enforce work rules to avoid claims of disparate treatment.

The attorneys at Fishel Downey Albrecht & Riepenhoff, LLP routinely advise public employers on disciplinary matters, including issues relating labor disputes and collective bargaining. If you have any questions about this case or any other matter, please contact us at info@fisheldowney.com or call 614.221.1216.