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How to Handle Employee Termination in a Union Environment

Written by Complete Payroll

How to Handle Employee Termination in a Union Environment

Union contracts can significantly impact the termination process.  Failing to follow the process to the letter can result in costly legal disputes that can damage employee relations. 

In this post, we will show you some key considerations and best practices when handling a contracted employee so that you can protect your business from costly litigation. 

Understanding Union Contracts

If you’re an HR professional, you need to know the employee contract forward and backward from the beginning. These contracts don’t just impact the termination process, but they impact many decisions you make in running the company from day to day. 

Some aspects of the termination process that could be impacted by the union contract include:

Just Cause

Having “just cause” for terminating an employee simply means that you have a valid reason for doing so. This reason can be anything from poor performance to violation of company policies. A union contract typically spells out what would constitute “just cause,” so familiarity with these circumstances is important.

Scaled Disciplinary Process

Many contracts greatly limit under what circumstances someone can be terminated without the employer following a progressive discipline process. This means that for certain offenses, the employer must first provide warnings and disciplinary action of increasing severity before they can terminate the employee.


Many union contracts give preference to employees with seniority in the organization when it comes to layoffs or terminations. Make sure you’re familiar with procedures regarding time spent with the company.

Notification Process

Finally, some contracts require a certain amount of time to serve as notice of termination before the event occurs. This can vary depending on things such as how long an employee has been with the company and other factors. 

The Documentation Process

When terminating employees, accurate documentation is vital to avoid any disputes or legal issues. This is especially true when ensuring you are compliant with contractual obligations. If the proper procedures and processes aren’t followed for documentation, employers don’t have much of a leg to stand on should it reach legal issues. 

The threat of legal complications isn’t the only thing that should motivate you to be extra thorough with documentation. Documenting the termination process also helps ensure that you have conducted the process fairly and objectively. This is particularly important in a business that has a union environment. Proper documentation provides evidence of why the employee was terminated and what steps were taken before termination to ensure that the entire process was fair. 

Handling Appeals and Grievances

Being in a union environment gives terminated employees the right to appeal their termination or file a grievance with the union. A grievance is a formal complaint concerning an issue such as a violation of the employee’s rights when it comes to termination. 

Employers must handle these appeals or grievances fairly and according to the contract. Steps to take to ensure the dispute will be resolved in your favor include:

Review the union contract

Make sure you are handling all grievances and appeals to the employee termination in accordance with how the union contract states you should. Some things that might be specified in the contract include timelines and procedures for filing and addressing appeals and grievances.

Conduct an investigation

You cannot take an approach that if you ignore it, it will go away or resolve itself. Employers should always conduct a thorough investigation of any allegation laid forth by an appeal or grievance. When it comes time to make a decision based on the investigation, make sure that the investigation’s findings and the rationale for the decision made are made in writing to the employee and union. 

Employers need to invest energy and resources into properly handling an employee’s termination in a union environment. The first step in doing so is always going back to the employee contract and working within its guidelines and timeframes. This not only helps you avoid allegations of wrongful termination, but it also builds trust between you and your employees.

Need more guidance when it comes to employee termination? Check out our Complete Employers Guide to Employee Termination or head over to our blog for more on this topic and many more topics that will help you in your HR role. 

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