The Reconciliation of Work-Family Conflicts in Arbitration - Dispute Resolution Journal - Vol. 59, No. 3
Benjamin Wolkinson is a professor of Industrial Relations at the School of Labor and Industrial Relations (SLIR) at Michigan State University. He is a member of the National Academy of Arbitrators.
Russell Ormiston is a Ph.D. candidate at the SLIR. The authors acknowledge the many helpful contributions of Cynthia Bullock and Nancy Barkey Young, librarians at the SLIR, as well as the research support provided by Lori Tomeny, a graduate assistant at the SLIR.
Originally from Dispute Resolution Journal
This article examines how arbitrators have viewed child-care concerns in determining whether employers are justified in disciplining an employee for failing to report to work, being late, refusing to work overtime, or leaving work early. It is based on discipline cases in which arbitrators used the “just cause” analysis to make their decisions. This review shows how arbitrators attempt to reconcile the competing demands of work and family confronting the American worker.
As of March 2001, the American work force included 50.4 million employees with children under the age of 18.1 Considering that 8.9 million of these workers represent single parents and 32.3 million are from two wage-earner households, it is apparent that the employment obligations of millions of employees must be balanced against these workers’ family responsibilities. In many cases, employees will be able to successfully harmonize and satisfy these competing constraints. Yet in other situations, workers may be confronted with circumstances where they must choose between two difficult options: subordinating the welfare of their family to that of the workplace, or conversely, the interests of the workplace to that of their family. At the same time, employers are placed in the precarious position of responding to employee requests for the accommodation of family needs while maintaining workplace efficiency. Within the framework of grievance arbitration, these issues materialize where firms discipline employees who have refused management directives in order to address and respond to family obligations.