Zero-tolerance policy on theft OK if applied consistently across the board — Business Management Daily: Free Reports on Human Resources, Employment Law, Office Management, Office Communication, Office Technology and Small Business Tax Business Management Daily

Zero-tolerance policy on theft OK if applied consistently across the board

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If you believe an employee has been stealing from your organization, you may not have the time or resources to launch an investigation worthy of "Law and Order." If it’s your consistent policy to terminate those accused of stealing, fire away.

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a discharge based on a zero-tolerance rule against theft because the employer enforced it every time.

Recent case: Larry Muldrow, who is black and suffers from depression and a mood disorder, claimed he had been fired due to race or disability. Muldrow’s job was to use surveillance techniques to catch shoplifters at the military base where he worked.

One day, Muldrow went to a base convenience store to gas up his personal car and pick up a few items inside. Somehow, he wasn’t charged for the gas. When his boss found out, he fired Muldrow. Later, the boss testified that he had a simple rule to terminate anyone who stole, and that he didn’t care about “a person’s intent for doing something.”

Muldrow couldn’t show that anyone outside his protected class had been treated more favorably. That’s because his boss fired everyone he suspected of stealing, without asking any questions.

The court dismissed Muldrow’s case, concluding it wasn’t in the business of judging whether an employer’s action was wise, as long as it was applied across the board and not just against members of a protected class. (Muldrow v. Gates, No. 08-1861, 8th Cir., 2009)

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