Just Cause – The Grievance Arbitration Standard for Discipline

An important part of your Union contract is a provision that says the employer may not discipline or discharge an employee unless there is “just cause.” If you believe you have been disciplined or terminated without just cause, you should contact your union steward for assistance. If your steward believes the discipline may have been without just cause, she/he will assist you in filing a grievance.

Most grievances are resolved directly among the grievant, the Union and the Employer. However, if the matter cannot be resolved, the grievance may be approved to go to arbitration for a hearing before a neutral Arbitrator. The Arbitrator will consider evidence and arguments presented by both sides and then decide if just cause existed for the discipline or discharge.

Just Cause is a special term used in employment law to identify the standard an employer must meet to justify discharging or imposing other forms of discipline on an employee. There is not a single, uniform definition of just cause, so different arbitrators will analyze the just cause issue in slightly different ways depending largely on the facts and circumstances of each particular case. But just cause determinations almost always involve consideration of the following factors:

1. Is there sufficient proof that the employee is guilty of what they are charged with?

2. Was the worker aware that the conduct s/he engaged in was forbidden and subject to discipline?

3. Is the discipline appropriate to the circumstances?

-Was progressive discipline appropriate?
-Is the discipline consistent with what has been given to other employees in similar circumstances?
-Were there any mitigating circumstances that helped justify the misconduct and/or justify reduction of the discipline?

Arbitrators will also look at whether the worker had due process.  In other words, did the employer do a fair and unbiased investigation prior to deciding on the discipline?

Keep in mind, however, that procedural or technical errors on the part of the employer usually are not enough to persuade an arbitrator that there is no cause for discipline if there is proof that the employee is guilty of what they are charged with.

If you have questions about whether your employer had just cause for discipline, you should always contact your steward first.  If you do not know who your steward is or you are unable to contact them, please call the SEIU Local 503 Member Resource Center.  If your steward has questions about whether there was just cause for discipline, they should contact the Member Resource Center.

Member Resource Center
SEIU Local 503 Member Resource Center staff provide advice and assistance to stewards and members with workplace issues or grievances.

Adult Foster Care, Nursing Homes: 1.877.637.2611
Homecare, Child Care, Addus: 1.877.451.0002
State workers: 1.877.772.6551
Local Government, Non-Profit, and University workers: 1.877.798.0008

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