Discipline can change.
Sometimes, it’s obvious that a disciplinary policy isn’t working. Occasionally,’s ideas about discipline evolve. Take, for example, a safety rule that punishes employees for obvious safety violations but doesn’t call for termination. If the policy doesn’t work, it may need to be replaced.
When you do, make sure you document exactly when the change went into effect. That way, an employee who is punished more severely can’t point to the earlier disciplinary actions as evidence he was unfairly singled out.
Recent case: Gregory Panka filed a wage-and-hour lawsuit and several internal complaints at work.
Meanwhile, his employer announced a new safety rule. The policy stated clearly that employees who violated a rule that required machinery to be locked down before repairs were made could be terminated on the first offense.
When a piece of machinery failed and Panka tried to repair it, he didn’t lock it down. He was pulled off the floor for the violation and terminated after admitting he had not locked down the machinery.
Panka sued, alleging retaliation for his earlier complaints and lawsuit. He pointed out that many employees who had not locked down equipment before repairs had merely been warned on the first offense.
The company showed that the others had been disciplined before the rule went into effect. Since Panka was the first to break the new rule, he had no one with whom he could compare himself. He lost. (Panka v. TIN, No. 11-1481, CD CA, 2012)