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Fire at will: The last straw doesn’t have to be the same for all employees

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in Firing,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Performance Reviews

Some employees who break rules believe they’re immune from firing if someone else committed the same infraction and didn’t get fired. That’s simply not true.

What may be a firing offense for one employee doesn’t have to be the last straw for every other employee. The key is to document—at the time—why you made the decision so you can later explain the difference between the two situations.

Recent case: Tyra Coleman, who is black, worked as a Blockbuster video store manager. The company has a progressive-discipline program that calls for warnings for minor rule violations or performance problems, and termination for more serious ones.

Coleman was written up once for failing to keep her store up to company standards. She got another write-up for missing a mandatory meeting and bringing her young grandson to work. She was warned each time that another incident might mean termination.

Shortly after, she closed the store early because her son had a medical emergency. This time, Blockbuster fired her. She sued, alleging that a white man had kept his job after closing his store early.

But the court tossed out her case after learning that the white man had no prior disciplinary actions. The early closing was his first offense. The court said Blockbuster was free to treat the two differently under the circumstances. It didn’t have to fire everyone who closed a store early. (Coleman, et al., v. Blockbuster, No. 08-4056, 3rd Cir., 2009)

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