What is Just Cause?

 Seven Tests of Just Cause

Most collective bargaining agreements state that an employer must show “just cause” in order to discipline an employee. “Just cause” means the employer must have a reason (“cause”) for imposing discipline and the reason must be fair (“just”).

Although most contracts include a “just cause” provision, very few of them adequately define what it means. In 1964, Arbitrator Carroll Daugherty established a single standard to determine if the discipline or discharge of an employee can be upheld as a just cause action. The test is known as the “Seven Tests of Just Cause.” To show that discipline was justified, the employer must be able to answer YES to the following seven questions:

1. Reasonable Rule or Order – Was the employer’s rule or managerial order reasonably related to the orderly, efficient and safe operation of the business?  This rule or order must not be arbitrary, capricious or discriminatory.

2. Notice
– Did the employer give any warning as to any possible discipline or consequence that could result from that employee’s action or behavior?  Warnings can be in writing or oral. *Note- management does not need to provide a warning to the employee for some very serious offenses.

3. Investigation
– Prior to administering discipline, did the employer conduct an investigation to determine whether the employee did in fact violate or disobey a rule or order?  The employer’s investigation must be made BEFORE any disciplinary action is invoked.

4. Fair Investigation – Was this investigation fair and objective?  The employer has the obligation to conduct a fair, timely and thorough investigation that respects the employee’s right to union representation and due process.

5. Proof – Did this investigation uncover any substantial proof or evidence that the employee was guilty of violating or disobeying a direct rule or order? Although there is no requirement of being preponderant, conclusive, or “beyond a reasonable doubt,” any proof or evidence must be truly substantial.

6. Equal Treatment – Did the employer apply all rules, orders and penalties evenhandedly and without discrimination to ALL employees?  If other employees who commit the same offense are treated differently, there may be discrimination or disparate treatment, both of which would automatically violate this test.

7. Penalty – Was the degree of discipline administered reasonably related to either the seriousness of the employee’s offense or to the record of past service?  A proven offense does not merit a harsh discipline unless the employee has been proven guilty of the same (or other) offenses in the past or the proven offense was severe in nature.

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