Legal Win for Workers Should Have Continued Impact

Steward Played Key Role in Ensuring State Followed Personnel Rules

SEA/SEIU Local 1984, largely thanks to the work of a steward, recently won an important case that went before the state’s Personnel Appeals Board. The case itself dealt with the termination of a state employee, but the implications of the decision will impact many others.

The case at hand hinged on the way the state went about terminating the employee. The legal precedent established by the 1998 appeal of CCSNH employee Edward Boulay said that the employer couldn’t come into a so-called Loudermill meeting and give a summary of its investigation and a conclusion. Rather, the employer had to present all of the evidence that went into that summary and conclusion. Sean Bolton, a grievance representative at SEA/SEIU Local 1984, said the steward involved played a crucial role in this case.

“If not for the steward taking a very active role, doing exactly as she’d been trained and taking very thorough notes, we don’t know that we would have ever known to have questioned whether the state followed the rules,” Bolton said.

That steward, Kim Harrington, said she was simply doing her job, and that when you accept the position of steward, you do so knowing that what it’s ultimately about is protecting employees’ rights.

“We’re not changing rules or trying to negotiate new ones, we’re there to make sure the employer’s rules are being followed,” Harrington said. “In this case, I only did what the steward position requires and what I was trained to do in that capacity: I attended meetings to support the employee, I took accurate notes, and then I contacted the SEA/SEIU Local 1984 legal department.”

What the SEA/SEIU Local 1984 legal department found in this case is that the employer, New Hampshire Hospital, provided scant evidence, which violated the state’s personnel rules.

“They shared very little factual data, instead deferring to someone else’s opinion — a report — but neglected to review what that opinion was based on,” Bolton said.

The state’s position was that the employee in this case was well aware of the details of the case, and well aware of why he was being terminated. Based on the precedent set in the Boulay case, though, that shouldn’t matter.

“The employer had the responsibility to present everything, not just a summary,” Bolton said. “This case lined up very well with the Boulay case — in both cases, the employer came in and presented the conclusion based on an investigation, then stated how it was moving forward.”

The Personnel Appeals Board agreed that the Boulay precedent applied in this case, and the employee would need to be returned to duty with retroactive pay and benefits.

Bolton said the SEA/SEIU Local 1984 legal department is already seeing the state is aware of the decision and the impact it will have on other cases.

“Almost immediately afterwards, the state realized it had made some mistakes in other cases and is working to correct those mistakes going forward.”

Protections exist in personnel rules and contracts to ensure that employees are not unjustly terminated. It levels the playing field in situations where employers tend to hold a lot of the power. It’s essential that employers be held to those agreed-upon standards, same as it’s essential that employees be held to the standards of employment.

“Whatever actions taken going forward by the state should be as the personnel rules and the contract intend them to be,” Bolton said.

“That’s the primary benefit of this,” he said. “When they don’t do so, we have the previously issued Appeal of Boulay from 1998, but we can also now show that the Personnel Appeals Board has agreed that the case means now what it meant then, and they will act on it if the state won’t do what it’s obligated to do.”

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