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Different punishments for breaking same rule? Cite specifics to justify harsher discipline

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

It’s reasonable to expect employees to obey your work rules. But employees can also reasonably expect you to apply those rules fairly. If you don’t, you risk a lawsuit.

That’s why it is crucial to be specific when documenting discipline. Identify the rule that was broken and note exactly how the employee violated it.

Be prepared to explain everything to a judge, including what the rule means and why the employee was punished. Avoid generalities, especially if you decide to fire the worker, even though you kept someone else who broke the same rule.

Recent case: Robert, a Hispanic police officer in Greensboro, was disciplined for “malicious gossip and untruthfulness” after reporting alleged police abuse. The department suspended him.

Robert sued, alleging that a white female officer who also was accused of untruthfulness hadn’t been suspended. She allegedly lied about the number of hours she worked.

That discrepancy was enough for the court to let the case proceed. Now the Greensboro Police Department will have to find some way to distinguish the differing treatments and explain how Robert’s behavior fit into the rule requiring truthfulness. It will then have to distinguish between the two types of “truthfulness” and justify that Robert’s actions were more serious.

Without good contemporaneous records showing why it concluded Robert’s behavior was more serious than the other officer’s, it will have a tough time winning this case. (Cherry, et al. v. City of Greensboro, No. 12-CV-217, MD NC, 2013)

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