Workplace Dispute Summary
The organization of the Nashville Fire Department (NFD) is vast. It branches into three separate but inter-related structures: the Operations branch which embodies the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and Fire Suppression and Rescue Division (FRD); Administration and Support Services which oversees training, personnel, occupational safety and health, maintenance, and communications; and the Fire Marshall which regulates fire investigations, code enforcements, and analysis of arson events.
Although NFD is a branch of the Metropolitan Government of Davidson County and falls into a grouping of city services (judicial courts, police, public works, water services, etc.), it maintains its own internal structure and functions as a stand-alone entity. As a result of its structure NFD is governed by the Civil Service Commission (CSC) of Nashville-Davidson County, but is given authority to settle internal disputes within its organization. Post-disciplinary appeals and grievances are directed to the CSC.
Discipline The case in review involved employee “Bob” who was charged by his immediate supervisor with article 23 of section 6.7 of the Civil Service Rules handbook. Section 6.7 contains the assorted infractions for disciplinary action against a Civil Service employee. Article 23 deals with “damage to or loss of Metropolitan Government property caused by negligent acts of the employee” (Civil Service Rules, 1998).
Bob’s offense was damage to a NFD vehicle he was driving as the result of a single-automobile accident. The vehicle was a 2003 Tahoe-Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV). While performing his duty as Acting District Chief, Bob was driving East on Interstate 440 approaching the junction at Interstate 65-North. As he entered the curve, Bob heard a loud “bang” at the rear of the vehicle. The auto began to swerve to the right side out-of-control and continued this spin until landing off-road on its side. The accident resulted in minimal damage to the vehicle. A NFD investigative team responded to the incident to file reports, take measurements, photographs, road and vehicle inspections, and an employee drug test (all standard procedures in NFD vehicle accidents).
Bob was notified of an Accident Review Board (ARB) hearing to evaluate his automobile accident. Bob arrived at the hearing, was ushered to a seat at a long table, and sat opposite five high-ranking supervisors. Following brief introductions; Bob was asked to relate the details of the incident, allowed to look at photographs of the scene but not the police report, and notified that his drug test was negative for illegal substances. Since the accident involved a single vehicle, Bob was informed that disciplinary action was highly possible.
Bob requested a hearing with an Appointing Authority (Fire Chief or his appointee) prior to disciplinary action, which was granted. In preparation for the event, Bob had contacted the National Highway Traffic Safety Commission (NHTSC) and requested information on the Tahoe-SUV. The related data revealed 78 consumer complaints concerning the vehicle, with four identical to his accident. All four incidents offered claims of vehicle roll-overs following rear tire blow-outs at low speeds. Bob also addressed risk management and safety issues such as: As a result of his meeting with an Appointing Authority, there was no disciplinary action issued. The rear tire was blamed for initiating the accident. No further action was taken and no reprimands were offered.
The arbitrary dispute system is designed to assure understanding, cooperation, efficiency, fairness, and impartiality. It appears that any supervisor may take corrective action (at their discretion) by issuing reprimands or charges as needed. It is unclear which party is responsible for the burden of proof or the presumption of proof (Corley, R., Reed, O., Shedd, P., & Morehead, J., 1999, p. 54). This practice can be highly subjective, unfair, and very partial depending on the circumstances.
In Bob’s particular case, there was no “true” discovery of investigative material involved. The ARB had access to police reports, photographs, and investigative reports in order to establish their plan for prosecution; while Bob did not have access to information to prepare his defense (Corley, R., Reed, O., Shedd, P., & Morehead, J., 1999, p. 45). Had Bob been denied the hearing with an Appointing Authority, the case would possibly have continued in an appeal process. Although this was only a hearing and not a trial, Bob was not informed or allowed to have any representation present. Bob is a member of the local firefighter’s union and has access to legal representation; however, he was never advised of the typical processes conducted at an accident review meeting.
The purpose of this paper has been the description of a workplace dispute at (NFD) that transpired between the organization and employee “Bob”. Bob was charged with an offense from the Civil Service Rules handbook and ordered to appear before a disciplinary board for review. His argument was much weaker than the prosecution and punishment was going to be issued. However; Bob requested another hearing and with more time to prepare, presented evidence that swayed the Appointing Authority to rule him innocent of the charge.
Civil Service Rules. (1998). Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County http://www.nashville.org