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Employment Blog

Grievance Award: Missed Staff Meeting Results in Suspension

Authored by Ruder Ware Attorneys
Posted on October 19, 2015
Filed under Employment

In a grievance arbitration case, an employee of sixteen years, with no prior record of discipline,  missed a mandatory one-hour staff meeting at work.  Following an investigation, the private company suspended the employee for three days without pay.  The union grieved and a hearing was conducted before a staff arbitrator with the WERC.  The arbitrator upheld the grievance and found for the company.

In American National Red Cross – Badger Hawkeye Blood Services Region, WERC, Case ID: 307.0000 (Jones, 9/25/15), the agreed issues were whether the company had just cause to suspend and whether a three-day suspension was an appropriate remedy.  The arbitral answer was yes and yes.  The shortened version of facts are that this long-term employee was informed of the mandatory nature of the one-hour staff meeting, but that he forgot about the meeting.  Mandatory staff meetings are important because that’s where this company’s training occurs.  Work performed by employees usually occurs away from the company’s premises.  The company’s 2013 policy on attendance, which was not negotiated, sought input and feedback from the union with some of that feedback being incorporated into the policy.  A policy rule equated missing a mandatory staff meeting with missing an entire shift.  A violation of this rule stated that the result was a suspension.  Prior suspensions for missing a shift were consistently meted out as three days in length.  The arbitrator found that the employee’s misconduct was established.  He further found that the severity of the penalty was appropriate, despite the employee’s length of employment, and emphasized doing otherwise would be unfair to others that had been previously disciplined to the same degree for misconduct stated under the rule as being the same.     

This case supports the position that if an employer has clear rules and employees know about those rules, then they should follow them.  Certainly, rules also need to be fair, consistently followed, and have justifiable reasons behind them.  In this case, it was probably helpful to the company that it sought feedback from the union on the policy at issue and it had implemented some of the union’s feedback.  It was also probably helpful that the company consistently applied those rules, including the same penalties for their violation.  The bottom line is that each case has its own unique facts (usually in dispute), the interpretation of contract or policy language (also commonly in dispute), as well as strengths and weaknesses which must be examined.  Further, care and analysis should be taken when drafting contractual or policy rules, when applying those rules, and when analyzing the benefits or detriments of going forward with a grievance arbitration hearing.  By doing so, employers reduce the risk of an unfavorable arbitration decision.