To regular readers of this column, it may seem that labor lawyers are always telling their clients what they can’t do. While it is true that we try to shepherd our clients through the thicket of complex and occasionally contradictory statutory prohibitions, we are often able to tell our clients what they can do. This is especially true than in the area of employee discipline; there are many categories of disciplinary infractions that are recognized by courts, government agencies and unions as constituting “just cause” for employee discipline, up to and including termination.

In this month’s column, we shall list and describe the most common disciplinary offenses. In my next column, we shall describe how employers should go about enforcing their disciplinary policies.

Throughout this column, I’ll address 10 of the most commonly recognized disciplinary offenses.

Falsification of official documents. The Employer has the right to rely on the accuracy and integrity of its records. For that reason, falsification of records in particular, and dishonesty in general, are viewed as a particularly serious offenses.

The building service industry is a “people” industry. Therefore, time records are especially important. Employees who alter or falsify their time cards are prime candidates for discharge. Arbitrators, courts and government agencies consider such misconduct akin to fraud or theft. Similarly, employees who “punch in” for other workers are subject to discharge or other extremely harsh discipline.

Insubordination. The rule against insubordination is intended to preserve good order in the workplace and falls into two separate categories. The first type of insubordination is the display of disrespect for a supervisor or manager. The theory is that this type of misconduct undermines respect for management. Yelling at the boss is usually a one way ticket to the unemployment line. I say “usually” because there are exceptions. Employees who yell back at supervisors who yell at them first might escape termination. Also, the NLRB has held that discipline may not be appropriate where tempers flare during the course of a union-management meeting.

The seriousness of this type of insubordination is magnified if the disrespectful conduct is directed against the supervisor personally, instead of over a work-related issue. The presence of other workers or customers is also an aggravating factor.

The second type of insubordination is the deliberate disobedience of an order. The theory here is that the workplace in not a debating society. If a supervisor gives an order, he has the right to expect that it will be obeyed unless the order would endanger the health or safety of the worker or would require the worker to violate the law. Even in unionized workplaces, workers who receive orders with which they disagree are bound by the rule “work first, grieve later.”

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Employee Theft And Assault Are The Biggest Disciplinary Offenses