Do you sometimes worry that every decision you make about an employee’s rule-breaking must be absolutely fair and that there is only black and white, but no gray? If so, rethink that idea.
You can treat the same rule violation as more serious if committed by someone with more authority or responsibility. Just be sure you can explain why you did. One reason might be that the employee with more authority should serve as a role model for others.
Recent case: James Lightner worked as a police officer for the city of Wilmington. He was the Acting Division Commander of the Professional Standards Division.
Lightner was suspended for allegedly pressuring officers to dismiss parking tickets. He claimed that a female officer was not punished for breaking the same rule and worse. But the court said the two were not comparable employees. Because Lightner was expected to set an example on ethics and rule following, he could be punished for violations that might go unpunished in other officers. (Lightner v. City of Wilmington, et al., No. 07-1442, 4th Cir., 2008)
Final note: The key to winning lawsuits is careful documentation and generally fair treatment of everyone. Whenever you punish an employee, note the reason. You may also want to do your own informal audits to make sure employees are being treated fairly and that membership in a particular protected class doesn’t mean more severe punishment.