How much employee negligence warrants discharge?

The ultimate employee discipline is termination. Under what circumstances is it justified? Dishonesty, certainly. Violence resulting in damage to person or property, assuredly. Sexual malfeasance, decidedly.


The ultimate employee discipline is termination. Under what circumstances is it justified? Dishonesty, certainly. Violence resulting in damage to person or property, assuredly. Sexual malfeasance, decidedly.

What about negligence? In most cases dismissal would be too harsh a penalty. But each situation must be decided on its own merits.

Instrument Repairman Perry Shea was a marginal employee at best. Ill tempered, a heavy drinker. Macho. Maintenance department employees were encouraged to seek help in lifting an object too heavy or cumbersome for one person to handle.

Shea couldn't be bothered. He had muscle to spare. On one occasion, he picked up and dropped a heavy instrument, causing $560 damage. Maintenance Foreman Pete Schiffo instructed him in writing to ask for help in lifting or transporting heavy items in the future. A copy of the memo was placed in his personnel file. When it recurred 3-mo later, he was issued an official warning, which again became part of the record.

More recently, wrestling with a 65-lb piece of equipment, Shea, who had been drinking, tripped while trying to maneuver it through a doorway. The damage was estimated at $1300. Schiffo's response was short and simple. "That does it, Shea. You're fired."

Shea protested the action. "Dismissal is too harsh. Anyone can have an accident."

When Schiffo brushed aside his protest, Shea threatened to sue.

Question : If Shea follows through, how do you rate his chances of winning?

Krautkamer's verdict: When informed of the incident, Plant Engineer Edward Krautkamer's support of the decision was swift and decisive. "To sustain dismissal for carelessness or negligence, evidence of such negligence must be strong. Management must be ready to prove that the employee displayed an almost willful disregard of correct procedures with little, if any, regard for the consequences. It would be hard to argue that Shea doesn't fill the bill in this case."

And with that, Schiffo trotted off to deliver the message to Shea.

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