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 against his employer.
Meanwhile, the company announced a new safety rule. It clearly stated that employees who failed to lock down machinery before repairs are made could be terminated on the first offense.
When a machine failed and Panka tried to repair it, he didn’t lock it down. He was terminated.
Panka sued, alleging retaliation for his earlier lawsuit. He argued that other employees who failed to lock down equipment had merely been warned on the first offense.
The company showed that the others had been disciplined before the new rule went into effect. Since Panka was the first to break the new rule, he had no one with whom to compare himself. He lost. (Panka v. TIN, No. 11-1481, CD CA, 2012)
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