Possession of alcohol on plant premises in violation of a published plant rule justified an employee’s discharge, a contract arbitration board has decided, rejecting a grievance that the company lacked proper cause for imposing the penalty because the violation was inadvertent.

The company maintained a rule prohibiting, among other things, “The … possession … of … alcohol on [company] property, including parking lots and grounds….”  Disciplinary action up to discharge was authorized for a violation.  A notice posted on the plant gate also warned against such possession, of possible discipline, and that entry onto plant property meant consent to a search.  The employee admittedly was aware of the rule and that its violation would constitute misconduct for which he could be disciplined.  

The employee parked his pick-up truck on a plant lot near the building in which he worked.  A plant guard on patrol in the parking lot looked through a side window of the truck and saw beer behind the front seat. The employee was summoned to the parking lot and identified his truck.  He said a 30-pack and an 18-pack had been purchased for a fishing trip with friends, but he had forgotten to remove the remaining cans, which were placed behind the front seat, before he had driven to the plant.  He was subsequently terminated for violating the plant rule.  The company noted the vehicle was parked in close proximity to the employee’s workplace.  The plant had never imposed a penalty less than discharge for such an offense, according to a supervisor. The union eventually brought the employee’s grievance to arbitration.

The company prevailed.  The employee maintained credibly that he had no intention of bringing beer onto company property, there was no evidence the employee had been drinking on premises, that according to his supervisor he was “one of my better employees,” and that the rule allowed lesser sanctions, providing for “disciplinary action up to and including suspension or discharge from employment” for its violation, but the grievance was rejected.  The arbitration board could “not ignore the hard facts that Grievant…did bring beer onto plant property … in violation of known policy and that he possessed only about five months of continuous service at the time of this incident.  It was Grievant’s responsibility to have removed this alcohol from his truck before driving the truck onto plant property and yet, unfortunately, he did not do so.”  The board said it could not reasonably find the company’s action either discriminatory or unsupported by proper cause in the circumstances.  It noted, too, the company’s reliance on board precedent that the possession of alcohol (or drugs) on plant property constitutes “intolerable conduct” and proper cause for discharge, regardless of length of service.  

The termination was sustained.  A strict prohibition could be complemented by strict enforcement under the parties’ collective bargaining contract.   U.S. Tubular Steel Products, Inc., subsidiary of United States Steel Corp., Wheeling Mach. Prods. Div., Hughes Springs Plant, and United Steelworkers, Local 4134, Case No. USS-47,400 (Petersen, Arb., approved by Board of Arb’n, Das, Ch., Feb. 19, 2013), 131 BNA LA