What is the Employee Code of Conduct?
In spring 2015 a company was hired by the district to help implement a standard system for dealing with employee conduct. The problem has always been that there is little consistency case to case, building to building concerning how employees are held accountable for following board policy, state and federal law, and our contract. If there is an infraction in one building it might be ignored and in another there could be a reprimand. The district believes there should be consistency in expectation of employee behavior and a consistent disciplinary process whose goal is to not only lower the district legal liability, but also works to change behaviors that are not in line with these expectations.
For example, in one case an employee who is constantly late for work has their infraction ignored, but in another case the employee is immediately threatened with sanctions and being fired. Neither example makes sense if we are trying to convey the message that employees need to be to work on time in order for our school system to operate smoothly.
WHAT AM I BEING ASKED TO SIGN?
Every employee will get a one page summary of the expectations the district has for us. These 12 statements are mostly pretty obvious, like obey all state and federal statutes. Others may be a little less obvious, like follow the chain of command protocol. Each of these statements can be related to an enormous document that details where the provision can be found, what it looks like to be out of compliance, and what possible consequences there could be based on its seriousness. This large document will be posted somewhere online this year, but we are not sure where yet. The statements show that you are aware that there is a code of conduct and that you were at least exposed to the 12 statements – it does not mean you have memorized the whole code.
We have always been asked to follow the law and board policy. The material being used here is not new, it is just codified.
HOW WILL THINGS BE DIFFERENT?
All administrators were trained in how to deal with disciplinary issues and will continue to have sessions so there is more consistency. There are actually a few steps that are informal that may help solve less serious problems more easily than the past depending on who your principal happened to be. For instance, there are many low level issues where the administrator is encouraged to just have a non-disciplinary discussion with the person breaking some rule. So, in the example of not being on time to work, it probably makes sense for the supervisor to confront the employee with a question or two to find out if there is a problem and also to let the employee know that being late is not acceptable. If this conversation happens a few times, then the supervisor is likely to call the employee into the office and give an oral warning. This oral warning is acknowledged with a signed receipt, but is not placed in a personnel file. It is like a traffic ticket letting the employee know that this has to change. If the problem persists, the administrator might try the oral warning again or might advance to an written letter. This type of letter is more serious, but is still not placed in the personnel file. There is a signed receipt for this as well. At this point the employee’s ability to self-correct without consequence has come to an end. If the employee continues to be late to work, then an official reprimand is given and placed in the personnel file. It is likely to state that conferences were held, oral and written warnings were given, but the problem persisted. As you can see, things will get more serious at this point and administration will build a case to eventually terminate an individual who does not comply with directives, especially given chance after chance.
In the past these types of issues were not dealt with in a consistent manner. Many times a principal would not address it with the employee at all, but rather make an announcement to the whole staff about attendance and hope the problem employee got the message.
We are not expecting administration to go out of its way to find problems, but hopeful that when there are issues that need to be addressed that they follow a logical and predictable protocol. The Code of Conduct makes this much easier with forms and specifics on where to start the disciplinary procedures. For instance, some code of conduct infractions will not start with a non-disciplinary conference, but will start with an administrative leave of absence and fact-finding. Some infractions could start with termination, depending on their seriousness.
HOW DOES THIS CHANGE MY RIGHT TO REPRESENTATION?
When you are called to a meeting where there is a reasonable chance for it to lead to discipline then you should be afforded your right to union representation of your choice. If you are in a meeting with an administrator that looks like it is leading to discipline you can stop the meeting and ask for representation, which may delay the meeting. If you are denied that right then you should state that you asked for representation and are at the meeting under protest. Here is exactly what you should say:
"If this discussion could in any way lead to my being disciplined or terminated, or affect my personal working condifitions, I request that my steward (or a union officer) be present. Without representation, I choose not to answer any questions. This is my legal right."
If you are asked to attend a meeting with your principal you should know the purpose of the meeting before you get there. If it is disciplinary in nature, then it should be expected that you will be accompanied by a union representative – most administrators will let you know in the invite that you should consider having a rep with you. In the non-disciplinary conference that administration may use it still may be a good idea to have a representative attend since it could lead to discipline. Although if it is non-disciplinary, you may want to find out what the administrator wants to know so you can stop the meeting at any time if you feel as though you are being trapped or set up for future discipline.
SHOULD I BE WORRIED?
I do not believe that anyone’s behavior is going to be radically different than normal for those people who follow the rules. For people who get into some kind of trouble for one reason or another, the Code of Conduct asks the administrator to take their emotions out of the situation and try their best to evaluate how much of a problem is being caused. It is our hope that there will be fewer knee jerk reactions when something out of the ordinary happens and that with a consistent process in place that the reaction will make more sense. We will monitor how this process works and what happens during the implementation phase. We hope that things will be better and clearer for our members and other employees if expectations are made clear.