Issue: Supervisors tend to be quicker in disciplining employees that have given them trouble in the past.
Risk: Singling out certain "troublemakers" for discipline can spur a retaliation lawsuit.
Action: Remind managers to dish out discipline evenly. Before acting, they should ask, "Would I treat every employee the same way?"
As any supervisor knows, all employees are not equal. Some are lazier, louder or more litigious than others. Your supervisors may want to "get tough" on those difficult employees. But, as a new court decision shows, employees can sue for retaliation if they can prove that supervisors scrutinized their behavior more closely than others.
That's why it's important to remind supervisors not to use heavy-handed discipline tactics for minor incidents. Dish out discipline evenly and in accordance with your progressive-discipline policy, if you have one. Before handing out discipline, supervisors should ask themselves, "How have I disciplined other employees for the same thing," and "Would I treat every employee this same way?"
Case in point: William Parries, an African-American, was a litigious thorn in his employer's side, filing several discrimination complaints. The firm fired him once, but he won reinstatement through the union.
Following that, Parries received several more warnings for minor offenses, including "making loud noises." The company fired him again and he sued, claiming retaliation.
A federal appeals court sided with Parries, citing "excessive scrutiny" of his conduct. The evidence: He was frequently written up for trivial matters that his co-workers weren't written up for. (Parries v. Makino Inc., No. 03-4173, 6th Cir., 2004)
For a free, five-step sample policy, from oral reprimand to termination, download our Solution Center report, Progressive Discipline Model Policy, at www.hrspecialist.net/firing.
- HR's uneven response to graffiti and swastikas: 'Close' counts in horseshoes ... not harassment
- 5 tricky issues in accommodating mental disabilities
- Whistle-blower lawsuit clock starts on learning of job cut
- Firing justified if applicant failed to reveal checkered past
- What should we do once an employee exhausts FMLA leave?