Use last-chance agreements to force rule-breakers to either shape up or ship out

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in Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Some employees think they can freely break rules they consider unimportant. They can’t believe their employer would fire them if they’re otherwise doing a good job. Trouble is, other employees often follow suit.

Your best bet for stopping such nonsense: Explain to the main culprit that his behavior is unacceptable—and then give him one last chance. Get that warning in writing with a formal last-chance agreement. If he breaks a rule again, fire him!

That sends a powerful message to others and may stop the gradual erosion of management authority.

Recent case: Carmine Sauchelli worked for the U.S. Postal Service and was frequently warned that he wasn’t following the rules. He believed that others, especially female co-workers, were also violating the rules.

His union intervened when management was about to terminate him. The parties signed on to a last-chance agreement. Still, Sauchelli couldn’t—or wouldn’t—follow the rules.

When he was finally fired, he sued, alleging that women who broke the same rules hadn’t been discharged.

But the court rejected his claim, pointing out that, unlike his co-workers, only Sauchelli had violated his last-chance agreement. (Sauchelli v. U.S. Postal Service, No. 10-3828, 3rd Cir., 2011)

Final note: Judges comparing discipline in cases like this one want to see that the co-workers broke the same rules, but were disciplined differently. If they broke different rules, the case will probably be thrown out.

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