Collective bargaining agreements #4
by Ross Runkel at LawMemo
A collective bargaining agreement, or CBA, can be an effective exception to the "employment at will" doctrine.
Employment at will is a state law contracts principle that says that an employer can fire an employee at any time and for any reason.
A CBA is simply a contract between an employer and a labor union, and a CBA can give employees significant job protection. A typical CBA will override the employment at will doctrine.
A typical CBA contains these key job-protection provisions:
1 - An employee can be discharged or otherwise disciplined (for example, by suspension or demotion) only for "just cause."
2 - An employee who is disciplined can file a grievance, or have the union file a grievance.
3 - If the grievance is not settled satisfactorily, the union can require it to be decided by an arbitrator.
4 - The arbitrator will hold a hearing and then issue a decision that is final and binding.
Let's look briefly at each of these provisions.
- "Just cause" can mean many things. Usually it means at least this: (1) The employer must prove that the employee did what the employee was accused of doing. For example, arrived late too often, stole something, performed poorly. (2) The amount of discipline must fit the seriousness of the offense. For example, discharge would be too serious for one incident of arriving to work late.
- Grievance. Usually the employee or union must file a written grievance (perhaps after an informal discussion) with the employee's immediate supervisor. There will be a short time limit, sometimes as short as 10 (yes, ten) calendar days or as long as 30 days. Failure to file a grievance within the time limit can wipe out the employee's claim. Filing a grievance (not going to court) is the only way to enforce the just cause provision.
- Failure to settle. If the grievance cannot be settled at the supervisor level, it usually goes up to a higher level. Eventually, it can go to an arbitrator. Usually it is only the union, not the employee, that gets to decide to send a case to an arbitrator.
- Arbitrator. The employer and union select the arbitrator, who holds a hearing, listens to the evidence, and then makes a decision - usually in writing. The arbitrator's decision (called an "award") is final and binding. The case will not go to court or be reviewed by a court, except in the rarest and most unusual situations.
Coming next: Express employment contracts: Employment Law 101: #5
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