Nothing will get you in trouble faster than discipline that’s harsher for members of some classes than others. That’s especially true in cases where someone has been accused of violating anti-violence policies.
Recent case: Oren, who is black, got into an argument with a white co-worker. During the argument, the co-worker lifted a long, hooked metal pole over his head and made a threatening motion toward Oren with it.
Oren filed an internal complaint. A supervisor listened to both sides of the story and then merely reprimanded the white co-worker.
Later, the same supervisor suspended Oren without pay after Oren allegedly threatened to “go postal” if he were ever fired. Oren had to get a medical evaluation and sign a last-chance agreement before returning to work. The supervisor never asked for Oren’s side of the story.
Oren sued, alleging he had been punished more severely than the white co-worker had been.
The lower court tossed out the case, but the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed. It reasoned that Oren and his white co-worker were accused of breaking the same workplace rule but were clearly treated differently. The court saw brandishing something that could become a deadly weapon as just as dangerous as threatening to “go postal.” (Jones v. Evergreen, No. 13-1354, 8th Cir., 2013)
Final note: Consistently use a disciplinary checklist to make sure everyone is treated equally. File copies in case someone later alleges unfair discipline.
- How to Fire an Employee the Legal Way: 6 Termination Guidelines
- HR tracking system helps ensure equal treatment
- Document rationale for rejecting every job applicant—and stick with it
- Put brakes on discipline when allegations of supervisor harassment seem credible
- Warn bosses: No retaliation for complaining