Seven Tests of Just Cause

In a non-union workplace, you can be fired or disciplined  “for good reason, bad reason or no reason at all.” It is the “You’re Fired!” scenario from The Apprentice. URA’s contract protects us from being fired or disciplined without “just cause.”  That means management must give a reason, and prove the case for disciplinary action.

Managers who issue disciplinary action must document and justify those actions, and union representatives are able to investigate and challenge the action through the grievance procedure.

It is in these incidents, whether based on personality conflict or larger issues of how a contract is interpreted, where informal problem-solving must be superseded with a formal legal process typically only available through the “Just Cause” clause in a union contract.  

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, known as Seven Tests of Just Cause.  

Labor attorney Robert Schwartz describes the tests as follows

  • Fair Notice: Workers have to know of the rule they are accused of violating. 
  • Prior Enforcement: Management can’t start suddenly enforcing a rule that has gone unenforced for a long time. 
  • Due Process: Management must conduct an interview or a hearing before issuing discipline, and can’t increase the discipline after the fact. 
  • Substantial Proof: Discipline should be based on sound evidence, not rumors. 
  • Equal Treatment: Those committing the same offense should not receive “disparate treatment.” 
  • Progressive Discipline: The employer should start with lesser penalties rather than moving immediately to suspension or firing. 
  • Mitigating and Extenuating Circumstances: Discipline must be proportional to the gravity of the offense, taking circumstances into account. 

Those of us who have spent any time on a job have seen incidents where our fellow workers fail to perform up to our standards. But we have all also seen incidents of poor management, abusive and bullying behavior with union members being unfairly accused or disciplined. 

The test of just cause provide an outline for a process to determine the fairness of discipline. Management has the obligation to do their job if they feel discipline, from warnings to terminations, are warranted. Members and stewards understanding just cause tests means we are able to protect individuals from unfair discipline and uphold the integrity of our contract.