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San Diego Employment Rights: Disciplinary Action

San Diego, California has over one million residents and most of these are employed. It is important to know what your legal rights are in any disciplinary situation. San Diego, California has different regulations than other states so it is crucial to have each individual case evaluated.

Two employees at a foundation wrote office memoranda stating that their supervisor was not needed on a project and that he had behaved inappropriately and unprofessionally. The foundation’s executive director informed one of the employees that she wanted to meet with him and the supervisor. Feeling intimidated at the prospect of the meeting, the employee asked that his fellow complaining employee be present as well. When this request was refused, and the employee declined to attend the meeting alone, he was fired for insubordination.

The fired employee ultimately was found to be entitled to reinstatement to his position, with an award of back pay. The decision by a federal appellate court breaks new ground for non-union employees and employers, because the basis for the ruling is a principle previously associated only with union workers. It is settled law that an employer commits an unfair labor practice under the National Labor Relations Act if it denies a union employee’s request to have a union representative present at an investigatory interview that the employee reasonably believes might result in disciplinary action.

The National Labor Relations Board has changed course several times on the question of whether this right also can be asserted by employees who are not in unions. In the case of the foundation employee, it answered that question in the affirmative, and the appeals court agreed.

The impact of the decision could well mean that in most cases a company should either allow an employee to have a co-worker present at a meeting that could be perceived as leading to disciplinary action or not have the meeting at all.

The right to have a co-worker present must be triggered by a request from the employee. Many employees, especially those not in a union, are unaware of this right and are unlikely to assert it. Managers and supervisors do not benefit from the ruling, as they are not “employees” as defined in the National Labor Relations Act. Non-union employees probably can only insist on being accompanied by a co-worker, rather than having a supervisor, manager, or outside representative present. The purpose of the right is to allow employees to engage in “mutual aid and protection.” The rule applies only to a meeting that could lead to discipline, not a meeting whose purpose is simply to announce predetermined disciplinary action.

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