Sometimes, cases that seem like a no-brainer are anything but. Just ask the Town of Stratford which finally won an appeal to the Connecticut Appellate Court.
The case, Stratford v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Council 15 (download here), will be officially released next week.
Firing for lying? Caution ahead
The case arises from the town’s termination of a police officer. After suffering an epilectic seizure and striking two parked cars, the officer was requested to go to a physician for a fitness for duty exam after his own physician cleared him for work.
After the independent medical exam, the employer’s HR director “discovered discrepancies between the report and the medical information supplied to the town by [the employee's] personal physician.”
The employer then charged the employee with violating police department policy for lying during the independent medical examination and he was subsequently terminated after a hearing.
The case went to arbitration. For those who are skeptical of arbitration, you can imagine what happened next.
The arbitration panel reinstated the police officer concluding that termination was “excessive” and that “lying about his physical and mental condition to doctors that could return (or prevent) [him] to work is understandable because [he] wants [his] job back.”
The employer moved to vacate the arbitration decision. Notably, its rationale was limited to police officers, arguing that Connecticut public policy encourages honesty by police officers. The Superior Court disagreed, but the town found a friendlier audience in its appeal to the Appellate Court.
We agree with the town that these authorities plainly demonstrate a clear public policy in Connecticut in favor of honest police officers and, consequently, against lying by police officers in connection with their employment.
As a result, the Court overturned the arbitration result and the termination is allowed to stand. (No word yet whether this will be appealed to the Connecticut Supreme Court.)
What does this mean for employers? Two things.
First, if you’re a town and you’re dealing with police officers, you can hold your employees to a high degree of candor and honesty. After all, if we can’t trust the police officers, who can we trust?
But second, for other employers, the case raises the troubling question of whether intentional lying will ever be enough to uphold a termination — at least one that will be upheld by an arbitrator.
The court leaves that door open for arbitrators to make decisions reversing a termination decision if a “normal” employee is caught lying. Without the public policy argument regarding honesty by police officers to raise, employers may then find themselves faced with having to reinstate (with back pay perhaps) dishonest employees.