What must an employer consider before disciplining a union employee?

Author: Jessica Sussman

An employer may not discipline a union employee without cause. A collective bargaining agreement generally provides procedural protections to the union and represented employees, including notice of alleged wrongdoing, the opportunity to cure (progressive discipline), and dispute resolution mechanisms consisting of multi-step grievance hearings ending in final and binding arbitration. However, the employer typically retains the right to discipline or terminate at-will during the initial probationary period.

An employer opreating in a unionized workplace must also remember that it:

  • Must provide the union with information relevant to the discipline of a union employee;
  • Must allow a union employee to have a union representative present during a meeting which the employee believes he or she may be disciplined;
  • Must NOT discipline or terminate an employee based on union membership; and
  • Must NOT unilaterally change rules or practices affecting discipline or termination without notice to the union.

A violation of such rights entitle affected employees and their unions to file unfair labor practice charges against the employer with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), and permit the NLRB to seek equitable, monetary and injunctive relief, such as reinstatement or backpay.