By Gordon McQuillen, Director of Legal Services
Periodically, it is appropriate to remind WPPA members of the rights, responsibilities and perils that they face in their work. This article is not going to address any aspects of work, per se; rather, it will talk about ten aspects of those rights, responsibilities and perils which members face in their status as public employees. Most of these issues have been the subject of prior articles in this magazine; hence, this article is intended as a reminder instead of an in-depth look into the issues.
Don’t Engage In Outside Employment.
Don’t do it if you are a law enforcement officer. Wis. Stats. § 40.65 provides enormous protections for officers who become disabled in the course of their employment. Similarly, Wis. Stats. Chapter 102 provides wide-ranging Workers Compensation benefits for all Wisconsin employees. But, all of the benefits of those laws relating to wages are based on the wages an employee has earned from the employer in whose employ an employee was injured or disabled. If you are working in a beer tent for a church bazaar and are permanently injured in an activity unrelated to your law enforcement employment, you will not receive § 40.65 benefits and your Workers Compensation benefits will flow from your pay as an employee of the church. So it goes for any other non-law enforcement employment. And, so it goes for secondary law enforcement employment: if you are working part-time for the Village of Xenon and become disabled, your benefits will be based on your part-time wages there, not on your full-time law enforcement pay elsewhere. You engage in unprotected outside employment at your peril and that of your family.
Don’t Submit To Investigatory Interviews Without Representation.
The WPPA continues to be amazed at the number of our law enforcement members who submit, without representation, to investigatory interviews which might lead to discipline. The WPPA worked very hard for revisions to Wis. Stats. Chapter 164, which sets forth procedural protections for every law enforcement employee in this state. In particular, the law provides these protections
164.02 Interrogation. (1) If a law enforcement officer is under investigation and is subjected to interrogation for any reason which could lead to disciplinary action, demotion, dismissal or criminal charges, the interrogation shall comply with the following requirements:
(a) The law enforcement officer under investigation shall be informed of the nature of the investigation prior to any interrogation.
(b) At the request of any law enforcement officer under interrogation, he or she may be represented by a representative of his or her choice who, at the discretion of the officer, may be present at all times during the interrogation. (2) Evidence obtained during the course of any interrogation not conducted in accordance with sub. (1) may not be utilized in any subsequent disciplinary proceeding against the law enforcement officer. Exercise your rights.
Don’t Accept Discipline Without Guidance From The WPPA.
When an employee violates work rules, he or she should expect some form of discipline. However, that discipline must be fair. In case after case the WPPA learns second-hand, after the fact, that a member has accepted inappropriate discipline because the Association was not contacted. Your Association exists to help you, but it cannot provide help unless you initiate contact. It may be the case that the same discipline will be handed out with or without Association involvement, but you should not take that risk.
Don’t Accept Gratuities.
Why would any public employee accept an improper gratuity, even knowing that it could cost his or her job? We don’t know: if you can figure it out, please let us know.
The simple fact of the matter is that in case after case, members accept reduced costs for a cup of coffee, a free or low-cost meal, or some other tangible benefit during the course of their employment. Even if such acceptance does not rise to the level of illegal conduct, it still is morally indefensible. Please don’t do it.
Don’t Fail To Review Personnel Records.
Every employee in the state of Wisconsin is entitled to review his or her personnel records at least twice annually. (Some collective bargaining agreements permit even more frequent review.) The WPPA consistently has urged every one of its members to review his or her personnel records every year, at bare minimum. [Please do not use the term “personnel file,” because the statute does not even mention that phrase.]
It would be greatly beneficial for every member to read Wis. Stats. § 103.13 to learn what rights every employee has to review personnel records. Exercise those rights.
Don’t Talk About Officer Involved Critical Incidents Without Consulting With Legal Counsel.
Every law enforcement officer trains extensively for the eventuality of using deadly force. Every law enforcement agency provides for such training. Seldom, however, does that training take deadly force usage past the actual usage. Yet, even if everything has gone by the numbers in a critical incident, others can nevertheless form an inaccurate perception of events based on fragmentary evidence.
The WPPA encourages officers who are involved in critical incidents to make their first comments about the incident only to someone with whom they have a right to privileged communications, in this instance an attorney. Do not confide in a law enforcement colleague: anything you tell one of your co-employees can be extracted from that person by supervisors or district attorneys. There will be time enough to discuss with your colleagues what happened during an incident, but wait until you have spoken with an attorney first.
Don’t Fail To Engage In Political Action.
The WPPA encourages every one of its members to engage in political action to some degree. Every member needs to be on speaking terms with his or her alderman, town or village board member, mayor or board chairperson, county board supervisor, state assembly representative, state senator, etc. If those elected officials know who you are, that knowledge will affect, in some greater or lesser way, every decision that they make.
Knowing your elected officials also will have an impact during negotiations, budget development, discipline proceedings, etc. If you do not get involved politically, you concede the political process and all of its implications on you to others who are interested in politics. Chances are very good that those others are not your friends.
Don’t Use Communications Media Inappropriately.
The Internet! E-mail! Facsimile machines! Cell phones! Oh, the wonders of modern communications. Oh, the number of new ways that WPPA members have found to get themselves into trouble.
Here is good advice: if you would not say something directly to someone because it could get you in trouble, or if you would not put something into written form because it could get you in trouble, don’t do it electronically, either, because it can get you into even more trouble.
Don’t Ignore Problems Of Co-Workers.
None of us are our brothers’ keepers. Having said that, however, we must all be mindful, particularly in law enforcement, that what our fellow employees are experiencing can have a serious impact on our own lives and well-being.
An employee who comes to work with alcohol in his or her system is an accident waiting to happen, and any of us could be a victim of that accident. An employee who is having intense personal problems in his or her private life may well have his or her judgment impaired to the detriment of all co-workers.
Although none of us has a legal obligation to reach out to our co-workers in such situations – and many others – we have something of a moral obligation to reach out to our fellow employees and Association members. Each of us can easily find ourselves in tough situations where we need our Association compatriots, and we need to keep all of the pathways among us open.
Don’t Fail To Read The Wisconsin Police Journal.
If you are reading this article, then this part is not for you . . . but you know someone who does not read every issue of the Wisconsin Police Journal. That person is missing important information every other month, and you can help to improve the overall health of the WPPA – and of your profession – by making sure that everyone gets the information found in the magazine.
Of course, if you have questions or concerns about any of the issues raised in this article, please contact your co-workers, your WPPA business agent, or the WPPA office in Madison. And, as always, look to this space in future issues for more information about you and your interactions with the WPPA.