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When discipline differs, be sure to document why

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Firing,Human Resources

Here’s a timely reminder that you should carefully document disciplinary actions and make sure there is no unintentional discrimination. The key is to thoroughly consider the appropriate punishment for each transgression, taking into account all the details.

Then, you must be prepared to clearly explain why you chose the discipline in each case.

Recent case: Nathaniel is black and worked as a security guard at a military base alongside a white co-worker. The two got into a dispute over parking and the white guard ordered Nathaniel to move his car. Words were exchanged and Nathaniel stormed off.

Later, Nathaniel refused to return to work. Instead, he demanded paperwork so he could file a workers’ compensation claim.

Because a supervisor knew that Nathaniel carried a firearm in his personal car, the supervisor became concerned. That concern soon escalated; Nathaniel announced he was not returning to work—and mentioned a recent shooting incident at another military installation that ended in several deaths.

Nathaniel was banned from the premises. Shortly after, he was fired.

Then he sued, alleging he had been treated more harshly than the white guard whose argument about parking had sparked the original incident. That guard hadn’t been fired.

But the court dismissed the case after the employer explained why it fired Nathaniel, while retaining the white guard. Nathaniel’s threats and references to the other workplace shooting justified firing him. (Hosea v. Donley, No. 5:11-CV-02892, ND CA, 2013)

Final note: Conduct your own informal audit on discipline. You should be able to easily spot any problems if employees breaking the same rules are punished differently. Remind supervisors that they must provide specific reasons to deviate from recommended discipline. And make sure HR approves any enhanced discipline.

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