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There’s a reason for all those disciplinary rules!

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in HR Management,Human Resources

There’s no point in having rules if nobody is going to follow them. It’s even more troublesome if they are followed sometimes, but not always. That’s a recipe for a discrimination lawsuit.

Instead, train supervisors to coordinate all discipline through HR. Then create a tracking system so you know exactly which employees were disciplined and when, as well as the final result.

That’s especially important if you have a progressive discipline system. For example, you should be able to easily pull up every employee’s disciplinary history and show that the employee received a copy, acknowledged an oral warning or was counseled.

Consider what happened in the following case when recordkeeping lapsed.

Recent case: Bryan worked in the auto service department at a Walmart for about a year before he was fired. The retailer has a detailed progressive discipline program called “Coaching for Improvement Policy.” It identifies types of discipline that may be administered depending on the nature and severity of the misconduct. For example, employees typically receive verbal coaching, written coaching and finally “Decision-Making Day Coaching.”

That’s known within the company as D-Day. Employees who hit D-Day are sent home for a paid day off to think about their job and return with “an action plan for improved performance.”

Bryan’s job required him to use a hand-held scanner that he logged into and used to record each customer’s Vehicle Identification Number when they arrived for service. He entered the requested service into the scanner and sent the information to the mechanics. Once the work was completed, Bryan would receive a confirmation, apply any discounts (such as coupons) to the bill and ring up the sale.

Bryan claimed that a female co-worker took his scanner (which he was logged into) and logged in a customer. This customer received a tire rotation that he didn’t pay for. Bryan, who allegedly had received an earlier verbal warning and written coaching, was confronted about unpaid tire rotations and denied he was responsible. He was sent home for a D-Day and instructed to come back with his improvement plan.

When he came back, his boss sent him to another supervisor to complete D-Day paperwork. That supervisor allegedly told Bryan not to worry about the improvement plan. Shortly after, Bryan got his evaluation, which made no mention of any discipline. Walmart policy requires employee evaluations to list all discipline.

Later, Bryan was fired for two incidents in which he allegedly failed to ring up sales.

He sued, alleging sex discrimination. Bryan argued that his female co-worker wasn’t fired for the same offense and denied having received the earlier oral and written discipline.

The court said his case could go to trial. It pointed out that Walmart appeared not to be following its own rules since Bryan’s discipline was never mentioned in his evaluation and since a supervisor supposedly told Bryan not to worry about his D-Day paperwork. A jury will now decide whether Bryan was illegally fired for giving a discount while his female co-worker was not. (Mudrich v. Wal-Mart, No. 11-1229, DC MN, 2013)

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