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Deputy Fights Off ‘Work Agreement’

Posted on Monday, September 01, 1997 at 12:00PM

A Solano County sheriff’s deputy has successfully fought off a “work agreement” proposed by his supervisors as a disciplinary action for sleeping in court.

Deputy Guy Bristol, assigned as a courtroom bailiff, received a counseling memo last June because a judge reported the deputy was falling asleep in court. His supervising sergeant and lieutenant recommended Deputy Bristol seek counseling because he was losing sleep off-duty because of his father’s terminal illness. He signed the memorandum and considered the matter closed.

But an assistant sheriff proposed in July to discipline Deputy Bristol for the sleeping incident by requiring that he sign a “work agreement.” The proposed agreement prohibited him from sleeping on duty and ordered him to counseling at his own expense.

The agreement waived the deputy’s right to appeal any future disciplinary action and threatened further discipline if he failed to abide by its terms.

Mastagni, Holstedt & Chiurazzi attorney Christopher Miller objected prior to Skelly hearing that Bristol could not be disciplined further with a “work agreement” because the memo of corrective counseling constituted the entire discipline.

Both the same conduct – sleeping – and the same non-disciplinary remedy – counseling – were addressed by the sergeant’s memorandum. The assistant sheriff conducting the Skelly hearing concurred with that view and withdrew the proposed work agreement.

“Work agreements” are becoming a common method for law enforcement administrators to get more “bang for the buck” out of disciplinary actions. The Solano County “agreement”, for example, replaced a documented oral counseling with a contract that was binding on the employee for six months, stayed in his file for another year pending good behavior, and still allowed the department to use the underlying incident to support additional discipline.

Signing such an agreement unfairly exposes the peace officer to discipline much more severe than the relatively minor punishment of a counseling memorandum or letter of reprimand.

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