Just Cause for Discipline

IN BRIEF......

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:

  1. 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.

  2. Was the company's rule or order reasonably related to efficient and safe operations?

  3. 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.

  4. Was the investigation fair and objective?

  5. 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 employment.

  6. 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.

  7. 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).