Today, the PA Commonwealth Court decided a case that further interpreted and gave a fairly concrete standard for deciding whether a Pennsylvania court may over-rule an employment arbitration award based on public policy.
The process the Commonwealth Court stated should be followed is this:
- Determine the conduct leading to the discipline;
- See if that conduct implicates a "well defined, [and] dominant" public policy. This policy must be based on "laws and legal precedents and not from general considerations of supposed public interest;"
- Figure out if the arbitrator's award "poses an unacceptable risk that it will undermine the implicated policy and cause the public employer to breach its lawful obligations or policy and cause the public employer to breach its lawful obligations or public duty, given the particular circumstances at hand and the factual findings of the arbitrator."
The third prong is the new one. What that prong means is that even if the arbitrator's award permits a clear violation of public policy, the courts are supposed to let it stand if the award, in light of the surrounding circumstances, will not undermine that public policy.
Because of the particular circumstances of this case, the Commonwealth Court found the arbitrator was within his authority when he reinstated the employee even after finding the employee had stolen money from a member of the public.
The case is City of Bradford v. Teamsters Local Union No. 110, 1804 C.D. 2009, and can be found here.
As an added note, if you wish to read about the original case that changed the standard to the one the Commonwealth Court applied here, you can read about it in a prior post from this blog here.