Denver Firefighters, IAFF Local 858, have filed suit seeking to block the unilateral implementation of a disciplinary matrix.
Local 858 was in court yesterday seeking a court order to force the city to negotiate the disciplinary matrix because it is a mandatory subject for collective bargaining. The city claims the matrix is a management prerogative outside the scope of collective bargaining because discipline is addressed in the city charter.
A ruling is expected later this month.
What is a disciplinary matrix? It is a set of guidelines specifying designated penalties for designated rule violations. The purpose of a matrix is in theory a valid one: ensure that similarly situated employees receive similar penalties for the same infraction.
We have all seen situations where firefighter A gets a reprimand and Firefighter B gets suspended for essentially the same conduct. In much the same way that sentencing guidelines help ensure that all criminal defendants receive the same treatment in court, disciplinary matrixes are intended to level the playing field in the workplace without regard to race, gender, friendship or political affiliation.
The problem is treating people the same is not the same as treating people fairly. Critics of disciplinary matrixes cite cases where treating two employees who are not similarly situated the same is not right. For example under many disciplinary matrixes, a brand new employee who is late for work would be treated the same as a thirty year veteran with a previously untarnished record.
Disciplinary matrixes have also been criticized as tying the hands of fire department leadership in cases where an employee has a known problem (substance abuse, anger management, etc.) in terms of forcing that employee to get the help he or she needs.
Some of the criticisms of disciplinary matrixes can be resolved up front by building in a degree of flexibility to address unique situations. However, there remains an inherent conflict between being consistent from individual to individual, and being fair to each individual based on that person’s situation.