Responding To A Warning Letter

At Dow Jones warning letters are a relatively common creature, usually delivered in a disciplinary meeting. According to your IAPE-negotiated contract, you must be provided with an additional copy of their warning to be forwarded to IAPE, if you choose.

You are entitled to be accompanied by a Union representative whenever "disciplinary action may be discussed" with management. You should always request Union representation for such meetings by either contacting your local Union Representative or calling the IAPE office at 609-275-6020.

The following is designed as a primer for union representatives who might be called to accompany a member called into a disciplinary meeting, but it's important that you, as an individual employee, know what to expect, as well.

Investigate the Warning

Interview your member. Your job is to listen well, and get the member to express his or her feelings about what has happened. Get all the facts you can from the member, and attempt to determine what to expect in the warning letter, and the ensuing disciplinary meeting.

Prepare For Discussion

Your primary role will be to witness the proceedings, and record what happens with good notes. However, you are also entitled to speak at the interview. You may request that a supervisor clarify a question, so that your member understands what is being asked. After a question is asked you may counsel your member on an appropriate response. You do not have the right to advise a member to refuse an answer, or give a false answer. Employees may be disciplined for failure to answer questions in such meetings.

Act As Management's Equal

While respecting their position, insist on respect for you and your member as well. Use a friendly, positive approach, and discuss issues, not personalities.

Stick To Discussing the Warning

Don't allow management to sidetrack you by talking about topics unrelated to the warning (remember to counsel your member to stick to the same rules). Politely, but firmly keep the discussion on the facts of the warning and nothing else.

Listen to the Main Point Of Management's Argument

Try to narrow the area of your differences. Look for possible solutions. Remember that this is not the time to argue the facts of a warning; this is our opportunity to ask questions and get as much clarification as we can. Why is this warning necessary? What is the action plan for improvement in performance?

Avoid Becoming Excited, Angry, Or Hostile

Management sometimes attempts to provoke you into losing your temper. Remain calm and cool — it's hard to think straight when you are angry. Counsel your member to follow the same rule of thumb, and avoid arguing with him or her in front of management. If a disagreement occurs, ask for a caucus where you can leave the meeting room to iron out the problem.

When You Disagree With Management, Do So with Dignity

Remember that you and the supervisor will have to settle other issues in the future. Don't make empty threats; this will lessen your member's ability to address the warning.

Prepare A Rebuttal

IAPE members are entitled to file rebuttal letters for warning letters — and performance reviews — if they disagree with the facts. A rebuttal is the member's only chance to have his or her side of the story included in their personnel file. In the eyes of an arbitrator (in the event that a disciplinary dispute goes that far), a rebuttal letter has equal weight to a warning letter.

Have your member draft the rebuttal, and then assist him or her with the final product. Stick to the facts of the warning, and counsel your member you stay away from harmful comments. "I had to catch my carpool ride" is not an effective excuse for leaving work early. "My supervisor is reprimanding me as an act of spite and revenge" won't work either. Remember to copy the letter to Human Resources, or include a variation of the phrase, "I respectfully wish to have this rebuttal included in my personnel file, as a companion to the noted warning letter."

File A Grievance

In extreme circumstances, a grievance may be a necessary response to a warning letter. In investigating the facts of a warning, you might learn that a violation of the contract or labor law has taken place. For instance, a member might be disciplined for poor performance, but is being tasked with duties higher than his or her requirements per the job description. That would necessitate a classification grievance. In such an event, contact IAPE's Grievance Chair for assistance.

Sometimes, A Warning Is A Warning

Remember the old saying, "where there's smoke, there's fire". Sometimes, a warning to a member is justified. You are free to advise your member of your opinion, and he or she is free to seek a second one. Your role in a disciplinary meeting in this case, would be to ensure that the member's rights are not being abused and that the discipline is not unduly harsh. Also, ensure that management is not engaging in disparate treatment — that the discipline meets the same level as that for other employees who have been warned for the same offense.


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