Question: Are there any cases where officers have sued their department for monetary losses incurred during paid suspensions that last for weeks, and result in no or very minimal discipline for minor violations? I am talking about income lost from regular extra-duty employment or the loss of working overtime. Our officers are routinely not allowed to work extra jobs or overtime assignments while under investigation for two to three months and often the final outcome is little or no discipline. Is there something we can do about this?
Answer: There are several arbitration decisions that pretty much stand for the proposition that if an employer does not have cause to place an employee on a paid suspension, the employer will have to make the employee whole for ancillary economic benefits lost as a result of the suspension. Beyond the arbitration environment, however, we know of no court decisions reaching such a result (or even addressing the issue, for that matter).
Question: My fire department has a merit system that states a promotion list is good for only two years. If this list expires on July 1 and there is not a meeting until July 6, can the department still promote off the list that expires on July 1 if they have a letter from the Chief dated before July 1, or should they retire that list since it has been expired for five days and use a new list?
Answer: Since you have no collective bargaining, this is likely to be purely a function of how the rules of your merit system are worded. In many places – most places, in fact – a promotion must be actually made and completed before a list expires.
Question: Does a Union have any type of privilege to its correspondence to its members? In this case, the City wants copies of a letter that the Union sent to a Union member concerning a harassment complaint.
Answer: While this is a matter that differs from state to state depending upon the law, the general rule is that an employer cannot gain access to internal union correspondence, and that for the employer to do so would amount to one or more unfair labor practices (e.g., improper interference with internal union activities, domination of the union, improper discrimination because of union activities, etc.). If the correspondence involved a crime, an exception might exist. And, of course, if the information was sought by other than the employer in legal proceedings – for example, if the information were subpoenaed by a prosecutor – the information would not be privileged.
This article appears in the July 2006 issue