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Human Resources Q&A

Published on March 8, 2017 11:44AM

This column is sponsored by the Lower Columbia Human Resource Management Association. LCHRMA represents a gathering of Human Resources professionals. Join us each month for a luncheon and training that covers many aspects of employment law and human resources.

April 27, 28: Greg Sammis, master certified trainer; “Crucial Conversations,” 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (two days) at Clatsop Community College Columbia Hall Rm. 219, Astoria.

May 3: Mary Hennessy, Cascade Centers; “Whole Person Wellness,” 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Fort George Brewery, 1483 Duane Street Astoria.

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HR Questions and Answers:

Q. What is the difference between “just cause” and “at will” termination?

A. The term “just cause” termination is often used to differentiate between a termination for cause based on a contract from that of a reduction in force or simple exertion of at-will employment rights. In essence, just cause termination requires a reason as well as a specific protocol for an unbiased, fair investigation based on reasonable expectations and clear factual evidence. In a pure at-will employment situation, employers do not have to provide a reason for termination unless there is a request made by statute.

The meaning of “just cause” in an employment contract should be distinguished from the meaning of “just cause” in a union setting. Most collective bargaining agreements require “just cause” for discipline and discharge. If a union files a grievance over the termination or discipline of a union member, the employer typically has the burden to show “just cause” existed for the termination. In the union context, “just cause” is a term of art that labor lawyers and labor arbitrators understand has a certain meaning, which may be different from the meaning of “just cause” in an employment contract.

In the employment context, “just cause” is protection for the employer (who can avoid severance obligations in a wantonly severe misconduct situation) and for the employee (who obtains severance unless there is demonstrable just cause). In some respects, all terminations should have a “just cause” element. No one enjoys — and it is certainly a poor use of Human Resources — when an employee is fired for no reason. As such, just cause requires notice that an employee has violated a reasonable policy or procedure; the employer must initiate a fair and unbiased investigation that leads to sufficient and solid evidence of which the employee is entitled to receive copies; and finally the termination (or discipline) must be appropriate and equally administered to all employees.

Disclaimer: No response to the above queries is intended as legal advice. The answers are general answers based on general questions. If you need legal advice, please consult an attorney.


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