YOUR RIGHT TO REPRESENTATION DURING DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDINGS
by Edward R. Purcell, APC Labor Relations Consultant
Most CSU employees are all too familiar with the commonly held stereotypes about public employees: lazy, incompetent, or worse. These, in turn, lead to another favorite idea, namely that the ranks of public employment are populated with the proverbial “dead wood.” The dead wood myth does, unfortunately, have some basis in reality to this degree: public sector supervisors and managers (including those in the CSU) are notoriously slow or remiss in taking appropriate action toward those employees who abuse the privilege of their employment or those who legitimately would benefit from corrective action.
All of this is by way of introduction to a very, very serious warning. When the boss comes for you to discuss disciplinary matters or to impose discipline, take the situation with the utmost concern. Experience teaches that when a public employer such as the CSU finally brings itself to consider disciplinary action against an employee, very seldom does it reconsider and very seldom does it back off, regardless of what the employee says or does at the outset of the process.
By far the biggest mistake made by employees is the assumption that they will be treated fairly in the disciplinary process, and that if they just tell the boss their side of the story everything will be resolved. Many former employees can tell you those are fatal mistakes. In fact, more times than not, just as the line from the old television show says, everything you say can and will be used against you.
As you read the following explanation of your rights, under State and federal law precedent, to union representation during disciplinary proceedings, keep in mind that there are a variety of things that you can do to protect your rights and to increase the likelihood of success in any disciplinary proceeding:
- Always, always, insist on your right to be accompanied by an APC representative during any meeting or discussion of your employment conduct which may lead to disciplinary action. If such a representative (APC steward, officer or staff) is not readily available, ask for a reasonable postponement of the meeting until representation can be obtained.
- Keep in mind that very few CSU supervisors or managers have any idea about your rights as an employee, including your right to union representation. If representation is denied, immediately insist that the person you confront consult with someone else in the administration who is more likely to know about your right to representation.
- Do not engage in random discussions with management; insist that you be told exactly the situation or problem being investigated.
- Ask to have the interview tape recorded, and do so unless your request is denied on tape.
- Request that all questions to be asked be provided to you in writing so that you can provide written responses.
- Never speculate answers to questions or provide information if you do not remember with certainty. Answer only what is asked, using as few words as possible. Never ramble on telling “your side of the story.”
- Decline to answer any questions that you feel are inappropriate unless you are ordered to do so. Do not disobey an order, but answer accordingly.
- Ask that any and all information upon which the employer is relying be provided to you at the time of the interview. This includes witness statements, complaints, and anything else in writing. If this information is not provided immediately, repeat your request in writing.
- Sign nothing at the meeting and without APC consultation.
- Authorize your representative to speak on your behalf and, whenever possible, use your representative to provide required information rather than doing it directly.
- Immediately review your personnel file and request a complete copy or log of its content, including written verification by the custodian of the file as to the accuracy and completeness of the copy or log.
- If the problem relates to an allegation that you have violated some rule or regulation, which may not be in accord with the APC/CSU collective bargaining agreement, work with your representative to file immediately a grievance and/or unfair labor practice charge.
- Remember that the person to whom you are talking-regardless of whether you consider her/him to be your friend-may be acting under orders from someone else. In that context, she/he may no longer have the luxury of acting as your friend. Disciplinary actions frequently are authorized and/or directed by high-ranking campus officials.
- If you ultimately are served with a notice of intent to discipline, notify APC immediately.