The key to a sound discipline policy is equal treatment for all who commit similar offenses. You can’t decide to treat some employees more leniently than others without very good reason.
And you’d better nail down that reason at the time you make the decision—not months or years later, after another employee has sued.
To make sure decisions are equitable, always be ready to compare prior discipline with the proposed punishment this time.
That means someone in HR should track all discipline and make the information readily available when needed.
Recent case: Mahendradat Debidat is from Guyana and describes himself as white. He worked for Marriott as a loss-prevention supervisor until he was fired for sleeping on the job.
Debidat sued, alleging that Marriott had not terminated black loss-prevention employees for sleeping during their shifts.
But in court, he could point to just one example. Marriott acknowledged it may not have fired that particular black employee, but showed it had, in fact, fired another black employee for sleeping on the job. That was enough for the court to conclude that race wasn’t a factor in Debidat’s firing. It ruled in Marriott’s favor. (Debidat v. Marriott International, No. 06-Civ-3561, SD NY, 2008)
Final note: Follow these tips to ensure your disciplinary process is fair. First, make sure managers and employees understand the rules. Then, impress upon supervisors how important it is to check with HR before imposing any discipline. Finally, do a contemporaneous mini-audit of discipline by sex, race, age, etc., to make sure there is no hidden pattern of discriminatory discipline. Once you are satisfied that the proposed punishment is in line with past practices, you can approve carrying out the discipline.