Just Cause for Discipline
A basic principle underlying most disciplinary procedures is that management must
have "just cause" for imposing the discipline. This standard often is written into
union contracts or read into them by arbitrators. Even in the absence of a
contract, it sums up the test used by employees in judging whether management
acted fairly in enforcing company rules.
While the definition of "just cause" necessarily varies from case to case, one
arbitrator has listed seven tests for determining whether a company had just cause
for disciplining an employee:
- Was the employee adequately warned of the consequences of his con-duct? The
warning may be given orally or in printed form. An exception may be made for
certain conduct, such as insubordination, coming to work drunk, drinking on the
job, or stealing company property, that is so serious that the employee is
expected to know it will be punishable.
- Was the company's rule or order reasonably related to efficient and safe
- Did management investigate before administering the discipline? The
investigation normally should be made before the decision to discipline is made.
Where immediate action is required, however, the best course is to suspend the
employee pending investigation with the understanding that he will be restored to
his job and paid for time lost if he is found not guilty.
- Was the investigation fair and objective?
- Did the investigation produce substantial evidence or proof of guilt? It is
not required that the evidence be preponderant, conclusive, or "beyond reasonable
doubt," except where the alleged misconduct is of such a criminal or reprehensible
nature as to stigmatize the employee and seriously impair his chances for future
- Were the rules, orders, and penalties applied evenhandedly and without
discrimination? If enforcement has been lax in the past, management cannot
suddenly reverse its course and begin to crack down without first warning
employees of its intent.
- Was the penalty reasonably related to the seriousness of the offense and the
past record? If employee A's past record is significantly better than that of
employee B, the company properly may give A a lighter punishment than B for the
same offense (50 LA 83).