OK to factor in truthfulness when disciplining

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in Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Sometimes, it isn’t the rule violation that makes a supervisor want to fire an employee, but the way the employee responds when confronted.

Some will lie and deny what turns out to be obviously true. Others may ’fess up. You can leniently treat those who do the right thing, while punishing the others.

Recent case: Scott Antonetti and two other white employees worked for Abbott Laboratories, along with a Hispanic co-worker. Every shift, they were allowed one 30-minute unpaid meal break. Employees clocked in and out and the time system automatically subtracted meal breaks from the total. If employees skipped the meal break, they told their supervisor, who would adjust the time system so they could be paid for the 30 minutes.

During a Saturday shift, all four employees decided to go out to breakfast. The following week, the white employees told their supervisor they hadn’t taken their meal breaks, and he adjusted their time. Meanwhile, someone told management the employees really had gone out.

An investigation ensued, and the only employee to tell management that he went out for a meal was the Hispanic employee. He wasn’t punished, but the other three were fired.

They sued, alleging race bias.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. It concluded that the white employees and the Hispanic employee were not similarly situated. The Hispanic employee told the truth, and the white employees did not. Plus, the Hispanic employee never told anyone that he hadn’t taken lunch and wanted his time card credited. The employer was free to impose harsher punishment on those it thought committed time fraud. (Antonetti, et al., v. Abbott Laboratories, No. 08-1647, 7th Cir., 2009) 

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