1 LEAVING WORK WITHOUT PERMISSION (excerpt from Steward Update Newsletter, volume 6, e School for Workers, University of Wisconsin-Madis on) issue 3 – George Hagglund, Professor Emeritus at th Why can’t I leave the job before the end of the shi ft, as long as it doesn’t hurt my employer? What’s the harm? As you may have guessed, manageme nt is likely to have a different answer to that question than workers would...and a lot of wo rkers end up in big trouble because of it. The arbitration record indicates it is quite common for workers to get fired for leaving the job ewards need to have a good understanding of without permission. To help in these situations st employer rules, how other workers were treated unde r similar circumstances, and the nature . Here are a few examples of what of the job performed by the worker who’s in trouble arbitrators see as allowable – and not. Continuous Operation rs after being told that – An elevator operator left his post for 2-1/2 hou is shift. He was fired. The arbitrator the production line would not be operating during h ve known that a 2-1/2 hour break was upheld the discharge because the employee should ha the elevator while he was absent, and he excessive, a backup of finished product occurred at had not previously responded to progressive discipl ine. Another employee left work early without permission and was fired. The arbitrator reduced the penalty to a 3-day suspension because he had wa ited a time for his relief man to appear before leaving, and a 3-day suspension was more app ropriate for his misconduct. Another worker was suspended for leaving his post a t the end of his shift without waiting for d the suspension because, he said, no one had his relief person to show up. The arbitrator voide record of working overtime if asked. told the worker to stay for overtime, and he had a Additionally, the employer built his case on hearsa y evidence, and did not have a hould have been suspended. preponderance of evidence proving that the worker s – A union activist who was in a meeting called by the company to discuss the Union Activist need to complete shifts without leaving early was f ired for walking off the job. The arbitrator said he was discharged for just cause. The activis t had lost his temper in the meeting, shouted obscenities in the presence of other workers, and t hen walked off. The arbitrator said the worker’s overall behavior was such that discharge w as appropriate. New Rule – After a long period of non-enforcement, a compan y decided to start enforcing a rule governing leaving work without permission. Th e union filed a grievance. The arbitrator sided with the union, saying that the company had g one along with non-enforcement for a long time. In addition, the company had tried and faile d to modify the contract in negotiations. Provide Prior Warning – A worker, new to the job, was fired for leaving his post to tour the plant and eat his lunch. The arbitrator reinstated him without back pay, noting that even
2 though the workers should have known it was imprope r, the employer didn’t make him aware it was a discharge offense. Another worker was given a disciplinary warning for leaving work early. He filed a grievance, but the arbitrator sided with the company, noting h e had previously been given a “friendly warning” that leaving work early was not tolerated. He said that even though “friendly warning” was not stated in the rules, it was an ind ication that the employee had been warned that such behavior would not be tolerated. – An employee was spotted in a liquor store 25 mil es away from the Accepted Past Practice plant during his shift. He was fired. The arbitra tor reinstated him, noting there was a past practice of allowing workers to leave the plant dur ing downtime, and the employee had not been charged with breaking the rule regarding posse ssion of intoxicants on company property. Follow Progressive Discipline – A worker with 26 years of service was fired for walking off the job without permission. The arbitrator put him bac k to work, noting the employer had failed to impose progressive discipline properly and was inco nsistent in application of the rule, which failed to convey a clear warning that such behavior would result in discharge. In conclusion, there is a set of principles regardi ng how to handle leaving the job without permission. In general, workers in continuous prod uction jobs are expected to be there and perform until they have been relieved. Workers who can leave the job without harming the employer are given a bit more flexibility, but are expected to follow the rules. Employers have to enforce rules consistently if they expect to dis cipline employees effectively. Employers are expected to apply progressive discipline in a consi stent manner, with warnings first, then progressive discipline and ultimately discharge.
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