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Factor disciplinary history into punishment

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in HR Management,Human Resources

An employee with a prior disciplinary history may deserve more severe punishment for rule-breaking than a co-worker with a clean record. However, you must document that history and the role it played in your decision-making.

Recent case: LaFayette, who is black, was hired as a transit police officer. Initially he was assigned patrol light-rail train lines in Minneapolis and Saint Paul. He also patrolled in a squad car.

One day, while responding to a call, he was in a car accident and was injured. He took medical leave to recover. Meanwhile, his superiors determined that LaFayette could have avoided the crash. He was initially disciplined with 16 hours of unpaid leave, plus eight hours of paid drivers’ training. That was later reduced to a written reprimand and training.

When LaFayette returned to work, he complained about his shift assignments. He wanted patrol duty only, and didn’t want to ride the rails or patrol buses. He claimed those assignments were harassment. During a subsequent meeting with his supervisor, he said he didn’t intend to ride trains or buses, but would instead use a squad car. His supervisor warned him that he was being insubordinate.

Meanwhile, a citizen lodged a complaint, claiming LaFayette had treated him poorly during a stop.

Then LaFayette and his patrol partner engaged in a pursuit without logging it or getting clearance to do so. He was fired for insubordination and falsification of work-related records, among other reasons.

LaFayette sued, arguing that because his partner had not been fired, he shouldn’t have been, either.

The transit agency argued it treated the two differently because LaFayette had a long and documented disciplinary history, his partner did not. The court dismissed the case. (Temple v. Metropolitan Council, Court of Appeals of Minnesota, 2017)

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