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Public Policy About Drugs Overrides Collective Bargaining Agreement Terms
Description New Hampshire high court held that an employer's adoption of a zero tolerance drug policy, which resulted in dismissal of two public transit employees who tested positive for drug use, was favored by public policy and allowed the employer to override the terms of the collective bargaining agreement regarding discipline in such instances.
Topic Labor Law
Key Words Drug Policy; Public Policy
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts The MTA is a public employer of bus drivers, mechanics and other employees who provide public transit services. MTA's collective bargaining agreement with the employees' union includes a grievance process that concludes with final and binding arbitration. In 1996, the MTA adopted a "zero tolerance" drug policy, which replaced an older policy that prohibited drug use and stated that violations were subject to discipline "up to termination." Two employees who then tested positive for drugs were fired. The arbitrator reversed the dismissals because the bargaining agreement stated that discipline will be given for repeated offenses. MTA appealed to the Public Employee Labor Relations Board, which upheld the decision of the MTA. The union appealed.
Decision Affirmed. "Relying on the dominant public policy against employees in safety-sensitive positions testing positive for drugs ..., the PELRB rules that the arbitrator's award could not be enforced because it violates clearly defined public policy." Strong public policy may override the terms of a bargaining agreement. "Implementation of the arbitrator's award would allow public transit employees testing positive for drugs to remain in their safety-sensitive positions until the employee was actually impaired on the job, foreseeably evidenced by an accident resulting in a catastrophic loss of life."
Citation Appeal of Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 717, 1999 WL 1054715 (Slip Copy, Sup. Ct., NH)

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