Disciplinary Process

The majority of faculty go through their careers without encountering disciplinary procedures. Should faculty members find themselves in a situation where discipline may be warranted, disciplinary principles are laid out in Article 25—Discipline.

What is Discipline?

In the context of the Collective Agreement, Discipline refers to penalties imposed in response to faculty misconduct. Faculty may be disciplined, for example, for harassing colleagues or students, misuse of university equipment, or for vandalizing university property.

Who imposes Discipline?

Discipline related to MRFA members can only be imposed by people who are not members of the MRFA. That usually means that Disciplinary proceedings are carried out by the Dean.

What does the disciplinary process entail?

  1. First, there will be an action or inaction which is believed to merit discipline. This incident may be reported in various ways, depending on the nature of the alleged misconduct.
  2. If the Dean has not been involved in the initial report, the Dean is informed of the allegations.
  3. The Dean asks, in writing, for a meeting with the faculty member to discuss the alleged misconduct.
  • IMPORTANT: If the Dean wishes to meet with a faculty member to discuss a matter that is considered, or may be considered, disciplinary, the Dean must tell the faculty member this ahead of time. The Dean must
    • Tell the faculty member in writing that the meeting is related to discipline
    • Inform the President of the Association that the meeting is taking place
    • Inform the faculty member that they have right to have representation from the Association at the meeting
    • Give the faculty member a reasonable amount to time to arrange for said representation.
  1. The Dean meets with the faculty member (with a member of the Association present) to inform the faculty member of the alleged misconduct. In some cases, the disciplinary matter can be resolved informally. For instance, if the faculty member agrees that their behaviour was inappropriate, an apology might suffice.
  2. If the matter is not resolved informally, the Dean may decide that the allegations warrant formal investigation. Investigatory procedures and their aftermath are discussed in Article 25.

Can I be disciplined for breaking a rule I didn’t know about?

Yes. The Collective Agreement says that you “may not be disciplined for violation of a rule, regulation or instruction unless that rule, regulation or instruction has been promulgated, and communicated to the Employee, by the appropriate authority, and does not violate this agreement.” However,

  • You are expected to know University policies such as the Code of Conduct and the Conflict of Interest Policy and you are responsible for following those policies. For example, the Code of Conduct section D.2.i states that employees must “steward University Resources effectively, efficiently and for their specified purpose.” If an employee decides to take several reams of paper from their department workroom and gives that paper to their children for use in their school projects, that employee can be disciplined for improper use of University resources—even if the employee has not read the Code of Conduct and pleads ignorance of this policy. The employee should have known that University resources are intended to be used for University business, not for personal use.
  • On the other hand, if the University decides to create a new policy and does not publish that policy in any form, employees cannot be disciplined for not following the policy.

What if I am accused of something I believe was blown out of proportion?

Sometimes disciplinary situations are straightforward, but at other times faculty members may disagree on whether their behaviour merits disciplinary measures. For instance, a faculty member may believe that shouting at an administrative assistant was “letting off steam,” while the administrative assistant and/or witnesses to the event might feel it is an example of bullying. In such cases, the Dean might decide to recommend the situation be investigated by a third party.

What disciplinary measures could I expect?

There are only four disciplinary measures allowed in Article 25.

  1. A letter of warning
  2. A letter of reprimand
  3. Suspension without pay
  4. Dismissal for just, reasonable, and sufficient cause.

While these measures are normally followed in sequence, there are cases in which the seriousness of the offense merits a stronger penalty. For instance, an employee found guilty of physical assault will likely receive more than a letter of warning.

I received a disciplinary sanction. What are my options?

  1. Written response

You are always allowed to respond to accusations made against you or to disciplinary sanctions. If a record of discipline is placed in your employee file, you can provide a written response which will also be placed in your file.

  1. Grievance

You may wish to talk to the Faculty Association about a potential grievance. See below.

Can I grieve a disciplinary sanction?

A faculty member may always discuss their situation with the Association. In cases in which the penalty is a letter of warning or reprimand, the faculty member can request a Step 1 meeting with the Dean, the first step in the grievance process.

In cases of suspension without pay or dismissal, grievances are always begun at Step 2. However, it is the Association’s decision whether or not to launch a grievance. It is important to recognize that the Association does not have a role in determining whether discipline was merited in the first place. If, for example, an investigation concludes that a faculty member misused university resources, it would be unlikely for the Faculty Association to argue that the faculty member was innocent. The Association might, however, grieve on a procedural issue or regarding the nature of the discipline.

Example: Faculty member shouts insults at colleague B. When Faculty member B complains that this incident is part of a pattern of verbal abuse, Faculty member A says that it was all a misunderstanding and that there was no intention to cause harm. Faculty member B disagrees. Without first talking to Faculty member A, the Dean initiates an investigation through a consulting firm which specializes in employee conflicts and allegations of harassment; and the investigation finds that Faculty member A has consistently belittled colleague B. The Dean recommends to the President of the University that Faculty member A be dismissed, and the President agrees. Faculty member A is dismissed from the University.

In this case, the Association would not challenge the conclusions of the investigation, since the investigators were qualified to investigate and to determine, based on the evidence, whether the allegations are substantiated. The Association might, however, decide to grieve on all or any of the following points.

  1. The Dean should have informed Faculty member A that there was an allegation brought forward and the Dean should have arranged a meeting with Faculty member A with an Association member present. This was not done.
  2. Normally, disciplinary measures are “followed in sequence.” Jumping straight to dismissal might be considered too harsh a penalty. However, the CA also says that “depending on the seriousness of the infraction, the disciplinary process may commence at any point.” That means that the University would likely argue that the circumstances merited a harsh penalty.
  3. The Collective Agreement states that “all disciplinary measures shall be fair, reasonable, [and] commensurate with the seriousness of the established violations.” In cases where the penalty imposed is severe, the Association may consider grieving as a way to give the faculty member one final hearing before a life-changing penalty is imposed. In contrast, if Faculty Member A’s penalty was a letter of warning and mandatory counselling, the Association might decide not to advance the grievance, even if Faculty member A wished to do so.

Some might find the idea of the Association representing a proven harasser distasteful. However, the Association has a duty to represent all its members (duty of fair representation). The Association does not condone inappropriate behaviour, but it has a duty to support all members through the disciplinary process.

Remember: If you are accused of wrongdoing and face disciplinary procedures, you should contact the MRFA Labour Relations Officer for advice.