Hit the Road Jack: Trucking Company Had Just Cause To Terminate Employee’s Employment for Violating Work Rules

By Attorney Bryan Symes

Employers are generally much more restricted in connection with employee discipline in the unionized workplace setting.   To that end, one hallmark of the typical employer/union relationship is the existence of a labor agreement that incorporates the so-called “just cause” standard of employee discipline—which is in stark contrast to the concept of “at-will” employment applicable to most non-union work environments.   In the unionized workplace setting, what is, and what is not, appropriate in terms of discipline for employee misconduct under the “just cause” standard has developed through decades worth of labor-arbitration decisions.    One recent labor-arbitration decision is the latest reminder of what an employer must do to increase the likelihood that a termination decision will withstand “just cause” scrutiny.   The decision is In re ADM Trucking, Inc. and Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers International Union, Local 103G, 137 LA 1469 (Oct. 5, 2017). 

In In re ADM Trucking, Inc., ADM Trucking, Inc. terminated the employment of a 20-year truck driver who twice delivered product to the wrong customer location, and also unloaded erroneously-delivered product without customer permission, resulting in contamination of one customer’s holding tank.   The termination decision was predicated upon alleged violations of work rules that allowed termination of employment upon a first offense.  Significantly, the Arbitrator in the In re ADM Trucking, Inc. opinion reminds employers with bargaining-unit employees subject to “just cause” discipline that discipline for alleged employee misconduct generally requires an analysis of the following three factors:

  1. Has an employer relied on a reasonable rule or policy as the basis for the disciplinary action?
  2.  Was there prior notice to the employee—express or implied—of the relevant rule or policy?
  3. Was the rule or policy properly applied?

First, with respect to factor No. 1, above, the Arbitrator found that the work rules were reasonable—the rules were permitted by the language of the pertinent collective bargaining agreement and “serve[d] the functions of food safety, public safety, and proper service to the Company’s customers.”  This is a good reminder to employers to verify that collective bargaining agreement language expressly authorizes the form of discipline under consideration.

Second, with respect to factor No. 2, above, the Arbitrator concluded there was prior notice of the work rules—evidenced by a signed acknowledgment of receipt of the company’s Ag Services Work and Safety Rules document.  Although very simple, this determination reminds employers of the importance of obtaining a signed acknowledgment of receipt and understanding of company policies.  Unfortunately, too often this practice is overlooked during employee onboarding. 

Finally, with respect to factor No. 3, above, the Arbitrator determined that the employer properly applied the work rules—the collective bargaining agreement language authorized termination for certain rules upon the first offense.  

This decision offers a nice roadmap for employers considering employee discipline and/or termination in connection with violations of work rules in the unionized work environment.