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Document details to differentiate discipline

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in Firing,Human Resources

You probably have specific rules that spell out discipline for common violations. That doesn’t mean you can’t tailor the punishment to each individual situation.

The key is to document the details that justify why one employee who broke a rule was punished more harshly than someone else who broke the same rule. Use clear language to explain why you are being tougher. If you are later challenged, you’ll be able to defend your decision.

Recent case: Shavon worked as a probationary corrections officer for about five months with no problems. She got excellent reviews.

The employee handbook had specific rules prohibiting contraband: “No employee shall enter any correctional facility with a cellular phone, wireless phone, pager, laptop computer, personal digital assistant, any device with global positioning capabilities, any device with audio recording capabilities, radio, camera, or other similar electronic device.”

One day, a cellphone SIM card was discovered in the office used by corrections officers. Everyone on duty was asked if he or she owned the card. At first, Shavon denied it was hers. Then she admitted it might be, because she had recently switched out cards. A forensic exam showed it to be hers. In addition, the card included contact information for some inmates and records of calls to inmates’ acquaintances.

Shavon was fired for bringing the card in and for having inmate contact information on the card.

She sued, alleging that two other male probationary corrections officers brought cellphones into the facility but were not fired.

The Department of Corrections argued that the cases were different. Both men brought their phones no farther than the lobby before alerting supervisors. Plus, the phones didn’t contain inmate information. That was enough to justify different treatment. Shavon’s case was dismissed. (Moultrie v. Department of Corrections, No. 13-CV-5138, SD NY, 2015)

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