You get to decide what punishment fits the crime — Business Management Daily: Free Reports on Human Resources, Employment Law, Office Management, Office Communication, Office Technology and Small Business Tax Business Management Daily

You get to decide what punishment fits the crime

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When it comes to disciplining employees who break company rules, courts like to keep their hands off employer decisions—as long as everyone who breaks a particular rule receives the same punishment.

But courts rarely have problems with the rules companies create and the punishments companies assign to particular rules.

Recent case: International Paper fired Mary Bearden, who had worked there for more than 32 years. Her job responsibilities included negotiating supplier contracts and purchasing items not ordinarily stocked.

When Bearden’s husband, who also worked for the company, wrecked a bicycle he used to get around the plant and transport tools, he asked his supervisor to get him a new one. However, his requisition was turned down. Mary Bearden claims the operations manager told her she could purchase a bike for her husband with her corporate credit card since he was having trouble getting the purchase approved.

Instead, she took a requisition form she already had for another bike and changed the order number to two bicycles. When several other managers saw Mr. Bearden riding the new bike when they knew they hadn’t approved the purchase, they asked Mary Bearden to explain. She admitted she had altered the order and promised never to do it again.

The company then fired Mary Bearden for breaking a rule that required preapproval for any requisitions. The company reasoned she was dishonest when she changed the form to include a second bike.

Mary Bearden sued, alleging she was terminated due to her age and gender.

But she couldn’t point to anyone else who had been punished differently for breaking the same rule. The court said International Paper was free to set the punishment for different rules based on how seriously it viewed the infractions. It dismissed the case. (Bearden v. International Paper, No. 07-3456, 8th Cir., 2008)

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