Chapter Title

Finality of Awards and Court Actions

Document Type

Book Chapter


The role of a labor arbitrator in a discipline or discharge case is to issue a ruling resolving the parties' dispute. Depending on the terms of the collective bargaining agreement between the parties, this can mean affirming, rejecting, or modifying the employer's action. Issuing the arbitration award, however, does not necessarily end the proceeding. Each side must decide how to respond to the arbitrator's ruling, and the nature of that response determines what further actions the employer and union may take. In the overwhelming number of cases, the response of the parties is to comply with the arbitrator's award.1 This is understandable because labor arbitration is a continuing process that requires mutual respect and cooperation to succeed. This can best be achieved by following the award's directives: where the grievance has been denied, the union will drop the issue; where a discharged employee has been reinstated, the employer will return the grievant to his former position and provide compensation commensurate with the award's terms. Nevertheless, in a small number of cases one or both parties may seek review of the arbitrator's award. The arbitrator may, for example, be requested by one or both sides to reconsider or clarify the award. Or the prevailing party may institute legal proceedings to confirm the arbitrator's award and to enforce its terms if the losing party has failed to comply. Alternatively, the losing party may institute legal proceedings to vacate the award to free itself of any obligations contained in the arbitrator's ruling. When such actions are brought, courts will normally defer to the arbitrator's decision. Prevailing legal principles direct the courts not to second-guess arbitrator rulings for factual or legal error. This is due in part to the belief that because the parties have agreed to abide by the arbitrator's decision, judicial scrutiny should not undercut that agreement. Nevertheless, courts have developed some limited exceptions to the general rule that they will not interfere with arbitration awards. These exceptions permit courts to review whether the arbitrator adhered to the limits on his or her contractual authority, whether the terms of the award violate public policy, and whether the arbitrator adhered to established procedural standards. While this chapter presents an overview of the legal principles governing the review of arbitration awards in discipline and discharge cases, it should be understood that voluntary compliance by the parties is the norm. In the few cases where review is sought, three quarters of the time the award is enforced as written

Publication Date


Book Title

Discipline and Discharge in Arbitration