EMT’s Suspension for Doing His Job Reduced Because Saving Lives is More Important than Adherence to Protocol

By David E. Worley

In Municipality of Penn Hills (131 LA 114), a 30-year EMT argued that his five-day suspension was unnecessarily harsh.  The result was the reduction of the five day suspension to a one-day suspension when the arbitrator found that the intention of the greivant was to protect the life of a child.  Although the employee violated two known protocols, the arbitrator concluded that the surrounding facts mitigated the severity of the violation, and thus only a minimal punishment was warranted.

The grievant, received a distressing call on his personal cell phone from an acquaintance.  The acquaintance told the grievant that her child was having a severe allergic reaction and her condition was deteriorating.  The grievant, while on duty as the department crew chief, decided to respond to the call.  The location of the call was outside the area serviced by the grievant’s unit however, and the grievant would normally be required to get permission from a superior to respond to this call.  The grievant did not seek permission, but did inform the area 911 dispatcher (who would have dispatched the EMT unit responsible for this location) that he was responding to a call at this location.  

The arbitrator here noted, that the grievant knew he was not following protocol when responding to the personal call (instead of one dispatched through 911), and by responding to a location outside the service area of his unit. Although the grievant was aware that he was violating a known protocol, the arbitrator noted that his intent was to protect the life of a child. 

Further, the arbitrator noted that the grievant was a 30-year employee with a service record containing only one written warning.  There was no indication he tried to cover up the unauthorized call, and the fact that he informed the 911 dispatchers of his taking of the call indicated no deceit.

Finally, as the acting crew chief at the time of the incident, he was authorized to make decisions to respond to calls such as this, and normally would not request clearance from a supervisor.  Although the call and response were outside the normal area of the unit, the arbitrator noted that the grievant may have simply not wanted to bother the off-duty supervisor after midnight.

Citing only the “appropriateness of the penalty” factor of the seven-factor just cause test, the arbitrator found a five-day suspension to be overly harsh “based on grievant’s long, and except for one written warning received in over a 30-year career, excellent record of performance.”  However, the employees should be required to follow protocol, so some punishment, in the form of a one day suspension, was necessary: 

The exact type of offense, its severity, and the circumstances surrounding the offense should be considered. In this instance, the infraction meets the test of seriousness, but barely so. In the labor relations world, progressive discipline after a written warning normally begins with a one-day suspension, followed by a three or a five day suspension.