Discipline a Union Employee

Key Points

  • Despite having an "at-will" workforce, the majority of collective bargaining agreements prohibit an employer from disciplining at-will employees unless they can show "just cause." While often debated, "just cause" can be explained as an action that is reasonable under the circumstances, not offending notions of fairness and not unduly harsh, arbitrary, discriminatory or retaliatory.
  • An employer should negotiate and set forth a progressive discipline system in the collective bargaining agreement. This allows an employer to use increasingly severe measures of discipline if the employee fails to correct his or her conduct after having been given reasonable opportunity. Some examples of progressive discipline are typically oral reprimand, written warning, suspension and termination.
  • Regardless of whether it is explicitly expressed in a collective bargaining agreement, an employer must ensure that it provides the employee with the following procedural safeguards when imposing disciplinary action: opportunity to be heard prior to being disciplined; notice of disciplinary action and future hearing(s); union representation during investigatory interview; and the opportunity to question the accuser.

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