Sometimes, employees who carelessly injure themselves deserve discipline. That’s fine, as long as you carefully document the carelessness.
Note: Never interfere with an employee’s right to take appropriate leave or seek workers’ compensation.
Recent case: Tommy was an air conditioning technician who worked on railroad cars. It was a dangerous job requiring close attention to detail. From the beginning, he had trouble following directions and made frequent errors. His boss encouraged him to ask for help, but he seldom did. Instead, he repeated the same mistakes over and over again, earning several write-ups for his poor work.
Then he stuck his hand in a running motor and hurt himself. Tommy had to take considerable time off to recover following surgery. When asked about the accident, he admitted it was caused by his own carelessness. The employer wrote him up for the incident, but he returned to work.
Several more safety infractions later, he continued to rack up write-ups. He was finally fired when caught working without a hard hat.
Tommy sued, alleging that he had been punished for being injured.
The employer had plenty of documentation with which to defend itself. It produced the write-up in which Tommy admitted carelessness. It provided ancontaining clear rules against reaching into machinery that was operating and requiring hard hats in designated areas.
The court tossed out Tommy’s lawsuit, saying it was the employer’s prerogative to punish such violations, regardless of an employee’s injury or any resulting disability. (Coleman v. Midlands Carrier Transicold, No. 1:14-CV-01472, ED CA, 2015)
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