Successful grievance arbitration concerning disciplinary letter sent to member

A recent grievance arbitration has resulted in a decision in favour of the USFA. 

The grievance leading to the arbitration came about because a USFA member, very active on social media in relation to the importance of science in COVID-19 policy-setting, received a letter of direction from the President, the Provost, and the member’s Dean, ordering the member to remove from their social media account any and all references to their employment with the U of S as well as any references to their association with the University in any comments tags or positions used or expressed through their personal communications. 

The USFA asserted that the letter was disciplinary, and the Employer did not follow the disciplinary process in accordance with the Collective Agreement. The USFA also asserted that directions in the letter restricted the member’s exercise of academic freedom. The Employer asserted that the letter was not disciplinary, that inappropriate posts are not an exercise of academic freedom and the member’s conduct damaged the University’s reputation.

In his decision, Arbitrator Eric Cline concluded that the letter of direction was disciplinary, and that the Employer did not follow processes in the agreement. The letter portrayed wrongdoings on the part of the member “not clearly substantiated and are arrived at without providing an opportunity [for the member] to be heard.” He noted that none of the three signatories to the letter gave evidence about conclusions reflected in the letter and “it would be inappropriate to infer damage to the reputation of the University in this case, where available and relevant evidence was not presented.” Arbitrator Cline directed the letter be removed from any and all University files. 

Because of his findings, Arbitrator Cline decided consideration of the question of restricting academic freedom unnecessary. 

The Employer has until the end of October to decide if it will appeal the Arbitrator’s decision.