HARRISBURG – The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court in November sent a message to public employers in
the commonwealth when it ruled that the Chester Upland School District was
guilty of unfair labor practices because it adopted a punctuality and
attendance policy for employees without first engaging in collective
“Under Pennsylvania’s Public Employee Relations Act, public
sector employers must bargain with employee unions before taking action that
changes the terms and conditions of employment,” Micah Saul, of McNees Wallace
& Nurick, told the Pennsylvania
Saul said Chester Upland’s updated policy changed the terms
and conditions of employment by imposing discipline on employees for using sick
days – something the district had not done before.
“In this case, the district’s desire to attach new
disciplinary consequences to its attendance policy wasn’t the misstep;
attempting to do so unilaterally and not negotiating with the union was the
problem,” Saul said.
The updated policy adopted by the Chester Upland School
District called for employees who accrued a specified number of sick days to be
subject to disciplinary measures. The policy was adopted by the district after
the collective bargaining agreement ran out.
In the subsequent unfair labor practices complaint, the
employees’ union cited the terms of the expired collective bargaining
agreement, which allowed employees to take 11 sick days per year, but did not
include any disciplinary measures for district employees who exceeded that
However, the school district argued that employees were
always subject to discipline when they took too many sick days. The district
said the only difference was that the updated policy spelled out what
disciplinary actions could be taken.
The Commonwealth Court disagreed with the district’s
argument, finding that the new policy was in direct conflict with the previous
contract because it added a disciplinary component.
In its ruling upholding the state Labor Relations Board's decision that Chester
Upland was in violation of labor practices because it unilaterally adopted the
updated policy, the Commonwealth Court said the PLRB had historically required
sick leave policies to be negotiated through collective bargaining.
In addition, the court said the policy adopted by the school
district went beyond just clarifying the disciplinary methods. Instead, the
court ruled that the policy specifically allowed Chester Upland to discipline
its employees for using too many sick days, constituting an unfair labor
The Commonwealth Court also said in its ruling that a public
employer cannot unilaterally impose disciplinary measures, regardless of
whether or not a collective bargaining agreement was in place or is being
According to Saul, the decision does not directly apply to
private sector employers. However, he said companies in the private sector with
unionized workforces are generally required by other state and federal labor laws
to bargain over subjects such as the implementation of new disciplinary rules.
“Some private sector employers use ‘no-fault’ attendance
policies under which employees may be subject to discipline for accruing a
certain number of absences, regardless of the reason for those absences,
including taking sick days,” Saul said.