Procedures Regarding Potential Disciplinary Action

(April 2010)

Introduction

The Office of Faculty and Staff Labor Relations office is located in the Brown Building, 9 Walters Avenue, Suite 108, Storrs, CT, on the Depot Campus.  The Office of Faculty and Staff Labor Relations team assist departments with workplace investigations and the administration of disciplinary actions against University employees and may be contacted at .  The Office of Faculty and Staff Labor Relations is open during regular business hours, Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

The following is an explanation of the typical procedures that are followed prior to taking disciplinary action against a University employee. It is not an exhaustive description, and the University reserves the right to change, alter or modify its procedures as circumstances warrant.  The principles governing a fair investigation are the same for all situations, but detailed processes will differ according to the nature of each case.  Accordingly, the Office of Faculty and Staff Labor Relations will tailor its advice and/or response to the unique features of each situation.

Advisory Role

  1. Managers:
    In most cases the role of the Office of Faculty and Staff Labor Relations is to advise managers1 regarding labor relations issues that arise in their areasof responsibility.  The UConn workforce consists of both employees represented by unions and those not represented by unions, and is further differentiated between professional and classified unions.  Accordingly, while general concepts for handling disciplinary cases may be the same, each case must be handled individually, and with each person’s employment status and bargaining unit as considerations.  If a person is represented by a union, procedures may be largely dictated by the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the University and the Union.In addition to ongoing training initiatives during which the Office of Faculty and Staff Labor Relations staff reaches out to the University community to provide training on labor relations issues, including managing the progressive discipline process and conducting performance evaluations,  managers often seek out Labor Relations staff for advice on specific employee issues.
    Advice to managers most often includes an explanation of the manager’s role as the disciplining authority, and therefore his or her responsibility to conduct an investigation and to take appropriate action including disciplinary action.In most cases, managers act as hearing officers for grievances, fact finding and pre-disciplinary meetings or hearings.  In some cases Human Resources and the Office of Faculty and Staff Labor Relations will act in those roles, depending on the nature of the case.Whatever the reason for the investigation, the investigator’s task, is to establish the facts of the case and report them to the person with the responsibility to make a decision in the case
  2. Employees:
    Employees are always welcome to contact an the Office of Faculty and Staff Labor Relations team member for assistance or guidance, and with any questions regarding their working situation. The Office of Faculty and Staff Labor Relations works closely with other offices within the Department of Human Resources, and will refer appropriate questions to the other offices. Employees who seek assistance regarding their working conditions from the Office of Faculty and Staff Labor Relations staff are often counseled on how to bring their issue(s) to their manager’s attention, or, if their manager is the subject of their concern, they may be advised to contact the next higher level manager.  Understanding such conversations can be difficult; the Office of Faculty and Staff Labor Relations will work to assist the employee in how best to approach such conversations.In certain cases the Office of Faculty and Staff Labor Relations staff will accept the information and relay it to higher management on behalf of an employee or other source.  In some cases the Office of Faculty and Staff Labor Relations may determine the circumstances warrant direct intervention in a situation.  In addition, referrals may be made to the Office of Diversity and Equity, (ODE), the Office of Audit, Compliance and Ethics, (OACE), to the UConn Police, or to other appropriate authority or resource.

General Parameters of Discipline at UConn

Progressive discipline – The University uses “progressive discipline,” which is an escalating ladder of disciplinary steps, designed to address performance or conduct problems as promptly as possible, and at the lowest level necessary to effectuate the required behavioral changes. In every case the Office of Faculty and Staff Labor Relations personnel assist and advise managers when taking personnel actions to ensure that the manager is working toward a fair and proper outcome – improvement in work performance or attendance and/or better behavior, and to ensure that all steps in the disciplinary process are correctly executed.  When this is done, problems are recognized and solved early, and the need for continuing disciplinary action is often reduced and preferably eliminated.

The progressive discipline ladder consists of the following: letter of warning, letter of reprimand, suspension, demotion and termination.2   “Handling disciplinary problems effectively is a matter of using good judgment and common sense within the context of university policy, state regulations, accepted labor relations practices, and collective bargaining agreements.3”

In addition to statutory and decisional guidelines which prescribe the University’s actions in disciplinary cases, all of the Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBA) that the University or the State has with the University’s represented employees contain provisions regarding the disciplinary process, and we work within the confines of these agreements.

Discipline in Two areas: Poor Performance and Misconduct

Discipline may be administered for poor performance and/or for misconduct.

  1. Poor Performance:
    It is incumbent upon the manager to ensure that the employee is trained and equipped to perform the duties expected of him or her.  Supervisors are encouraged to delve into the cause of an employee’s performance problems, especially if there is a decline in productivity or level of performance.  In those cases where there is an identifiable problem interfering with a person’s ability to do their job, the supervisor should be aware that there may be tools available to assist the employee, such as the Employee Assistance Program.Poor performance, and the efforts made to correct the problem, may be reflected in the employee’s annual performance evaluation.  However, a poor evaluation should not be a surprise to an employee.  There should be a well documented series of actions, typically those characterized under progressive discipline, taken to address the problem before a negative evaluation is issued.In more serious cases, where the failure to perform results in a serious problem for the University, or creates or allows the existence of a dangerous situation, the lower levels of progressive discipline may be skipped; such egregious behavior may result in suspension, demotion or even termination.
  2. Misconduct:
    Misconduct occurs when an individual violates a rule, regulation or policy of the University or State, or violates state or federal law.  The University’s General Rules of Conduct, Ethics policy, Violence in the Workplace Prevention Policy, and Non-Retaliation policy are examples of the sources of these rules and regulations.  Alleged violations are investigated, and if misconduct is found and is supported by competent evidence, appropriate disciplinary action may be taken.Discipline for misconduct, while also generally administered progressively, depending on the severity of the offense, may range from non-disciplinary actions such as counseling, up to and including dismissal, and a single incident, if serious enough, may result in dismissal.  Criminal conduct may also be prosecuted.In cases where the misconduct is serious, and either violence has occurred or is feared, and/or when the offender may be considered a security risk, the employee may be placed on paid administrative leave, pending investigation, and computer access may be terminated. Supervisors must consult with Labor Relations before placing any employee on paid administrative leave.

Investigation

  1. General Considerations:
    Depending on the nature of the case, an investigation may be required to determine the facts upon which to base a decision to take action or not.In cases of misconduct the facts are often disputed, and it is therefore important that the responsible manager ensure that a thorough investigation is conducted.  The investigator should not assume wrongdoing and must fairly evaluate all available evidence before reaching a conclusion that there has or has not been misconduct. Only then can decisions be made about whether an offense has occurred, and, if so, what action to take.The University strives to initiate and complete investigations in a timely manner, and in accordance with contractual requirements. Due to the possible variation between what is necessary to address a minor offense compared to that which is required to address major offenses, including the difference in the requirements of the attendant investigation, no specific time requirement can be set for any investigation.  Issues regarding availability of investigators, witnesses and subjects may also impact investigatory timelines.
  2. Who Conducts the Investigation?
    Generally, the department or unit conducts the investigation.  This may be done in a variety of ways, and the supervisor may conduct the investigation her or himself, or may assign it to another person.  In some cases Labor Relations will conduct the investigation, or an investigator from outside the University may investigate.Employees suspected of misconduct and who are going to be questioned have the right to have a union representative present.  This right is limited to those situations where the employer is conducting an investigatory interview when there is reason to believe the interview will lead to disciplinary action.  The employee has the right to decide whether or not to involve the union, and if the employee chooses to proceed without a union representative, we recommend that the supervisor get the waiver in writing.Some cases are investigated by ODE, OACE or by the UConn Police Department, and in those cases the investigatory report may be used by the primary investigator.
  3. Common Elements of Most Investigations
    While no two investigations are identical, the goal is always to gather as much credible evidence as possible in order to make a fair and informed decision.  To accomplish that, the investigator will interview the participants, witnesses and other people with relevant information, and may take statements or other evidence from them.  Additionally, when evidence exists it may be secured and preserved.  This may include physical objects, and/or may consist of information stored on computers, on video tape or other forms of media.

Conclusion

Investigation and discipline require rigorous adherence to proper procedures and discipline should only be imposed when just cause exists and is supported by competent evidence. The Labor Relations team endeavors to provide advice and service to the University community to ensure that the University’s disciplinary procedures are followed and that discipline is properly administered.  Please contact Labor Relations at  when you require assistance or when you have any questions.

2010 04-28 Disciplinary Case Processing Final  +2

1 “Managers” herein refers to anyone who has formal supervisory authority, regardless of title.

2 For a detailed description of these steps, please see Resolving Employee Performance Problems – A Manager’s Guide to Progressive Discipline, Revised, March 2008.