Smart employers know that it’s essential to follow the terms of a collective bargaining agreement, and that failure to do so can mean that its decisions can be overturned. Thanks to a recent decision by a Connecticut Superior Court, Town of Greenwich v. Greenwich Municipal Employees Association, we are reminded that the same is true for arbitrators.

The Town of Greenwich terminated an accounting clerk for the fire department after it discovered that she had sent 9600 emails, 80% which were not work-related, and many of which included derogatory comments about co-workers and supervisors. Additionally, the employee admitted to snooping, disseminating medical information, and disclosed department records to non-employees. The Union filed a grievance challenging the employee’s termination.

The majority of the arbitration panel found that the employee’s discharge was “unfair” and that she had not received progressive discipline. The Town of Greenwich appealed to Superior Court to vacate the arbitration award. The municipality’s appeal claimed that the issue before the panel was whether a provision of the collective bargaining agreement had been violated, and that the panel considered issues that did not arise from the collective bargaining agreement.

Although the municipality’s discipline policy was not part of the collective bargaining agreement, the arbitration panel considered whether the employee had received progressive discipline as set forth in the policy.  In addition, the panel found that the employee’s discharge was disproportionate based on the treatment of another employee who was subject to a different collective bargaining agreement.

In vacating the arbitration award, the court wrote that the arbitration panel’s decision “is not clothed with even a pretense that it relates to a provision, much less an express provision, of the CBA.” By inserting “fairness” as a criterion, the panel departed from its own submission that the issue was whether the employee’s discharge was in violation of a provision of the collective bargaining agreement.

Apparently even arbitrators need to be reminded that its good practice to adhere to the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement.