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Note extraordinary offense when you must fire

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in Human Resources

You have disciplinary rules for a reason. They tell employees what to expect and guide managers and supervisors so they don’t inadvertently treat employees who belong to a protected class more harshly than others.

But disciplinary rules have to be a little flexible—loose enough to let you distinguish between minor infractions and major ones. Otherwise, you may end up having to terminate an otherwise good employee for a trivial reason. On the other hand, employees can abuse rules that are too flexible.

Here’s how to strike the right balance:
Carefully document every disciplinary action. Explain in your notes why the punishment was appropriate in that particular instance. For example, in the following case, several employees broke the same rule, but only one was fired—for a good reason.

Recent case:
Renee Bettis, who was pregnant, was fired from her manager position at Babies R Us, a store that caters to parents with young children. She sued, claiming she was terminated because of her pregnancy.

The employer said she was fired after her petty cash drawer came up short and she produced a fake receipt to show the drawer wasn’t short.

Bettis tried to show that others whose petty cash drawers were short didn’t get fired. That was technically true, but the employer said the difference was that none of the others had produced a false receipt as an excuse. That was dishonest, an infraction that distinguished Bettis from the others.

The court agreed and dismissed the case. (Bettis v. Toys R Us, No. 06-80334, SD FL, 2009)

Final note: Don’t toss out any disciplinary notes. You may need them years later to show how fair your disciplinary process is. If your supervisors and managers keep their own notes, make sure you get copies or collect their files when they retire, move to a different location or quit.

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