As the Operations Director for a small county government, I worked closely with our Human Resource (HR) Department on matters of hiring, counseling, and dismissing employees. As you can image, the hiring part was very enjoyable. Counseling can be difficult but I was really good at outlining problems in such a way that the focus was on the success of correcting the problem and not on demeaning the employee. The results were always positive because of this approach and marginal employees quickly became loyal assets. I only had to let go of one employee and he was caught stealing money from the county so the offense and punishment were clearly outlined in the employee manual. But he was not the only employee I was told to dismiss.
A report had come in that one of our custodians was using a county vehicle to operate a trash collection business in the neighboring county and that he was conducting this business during normal business hours when he was supposed to be working in our county. The person making the report had actually seen him that very day operating the business. I was told that the report came from a good friend of one of our elected officials and was very creditable. So, I was to dismiss the custodian that day. When I tried to say that we needed to hear the other side of the story, I was cut off and told, “I said fire him today!”
I arranged to meet with the HR Director and the custodian at the end of the work day. I began by asking him if he was in that area of the neighboring city at the time of the reported incident. He told me he was and apologized for not telling me. He went on to explain.
“Mr. Len, my ex-wife called to say that our youngest child was sick and was running a really high fever. She needed to take him to the doctor immediately. Since she had just moved into the neighborhood, she did not know anyone who could stay with our other children while she went to the doctor. So, she asked if I could come over long enough to watch the other children until she returned. I knew it was during the work hours and I should have let you know but I just felt it was important that I get there as quickly as possible because of my son’s high fever. It was only there a couple of hours and I planned on working through my lunch hours until I made up the time.”
“Tell me what you did when you left to come back to work and please try to include everything you did. Believe me, this is important,” I said.
With a look of bewilderment on his face, he continued, “Well, my wife updated me on what the doctor said, I said bye to the kids, and I left out the back door. Oh yeah, I noticed she had a bag of trash on the back porch so I grabbed it and threw it in the back of my truck to get rid of it for her.”
“And, you were in your county truck?” He nodded that he was.
So, I am faced with a dilemma. I have been told in no uncertain terms to fire this individual but I was asking myself, would that be justice?
[bctt tweet=”Justice is defined as the practice of being fair and consistent. ” username=”bizmastersglobal”]
To enact justice, you must give consideration to each side of a situation and base rewards or punishment on merit.
[message type=”custom” width=”100%” start_color=”#F0F0F0 ” end_color=”#F0F0F0 ” border=”#BBBBBB” color=”#333333″]
Be honest with yourself about why you are making a particular decision. Carefully weigh the evidence you are considering, the gravity of the infraction, the facts as presented by all sides of the argument, past performance history, and any other professional or job related factors. Justice can only be achieved when your final decision can be defended in light of all the evidence. So, never allow personal feeling to cloud your decision.
Avoid favoritism. I usually encountered this when an employee would complain that they were counseled or written up for being late but another employee was consistently arriving late and nothing was ever said. Proving this was really easy and in most cases, the employee was correct. So, if you are leading, you must enforce all rules equally.
Try to be fair at all times. If there is any doubt in your mind as to the veracity of a complaint, error on the side of justice and do what is right. This means you will have to learn to listen to the “gut” feeling that says that a story, a complaint, an accusation, is not following a logical pattern to conclusion (or, as we used to say, does not pass the sniff test).
Treat all things and people in an equal manner. This goes along with what I said when discussing the fact that you must avoid favoritism. To be an exceptional leader, you must enforce all the rules in the same manner in every circumstance and with every person.[/message][su_spacer]
So, have you through about what you would do to ensure justice in the opening story? Let me outline the actions I took that I felt handled this situation in the most appropriate manner.
A little more probing revealed that the person who made the accusation lived next door to his ex-wife and he was constantly complaining that the children were too loud when they played outside. It made it hard for him to watch his television. My employee and the neighbor had exchanged angry words concerning him yelling at the children just a few days earlier. Therefore, it became clear that the complaint was not true and was made for the sole purpose of damaging my employee’s professional standing with the county. So, here was what I did.
I made it very clear to him that he had an absolute obligation to let us know when he had to take off in the middle of the day for a personal matter and that his failure to do this had placed himself in jeopardy of losing his job because of the neighbor’s false accusation. I emphasized that I was not upset that he needed time to take care of his children; I truly respected him for that. However, I stressed that he shown poor judgment in that he did not advise anyone of the emergency and that it was because of the lack of judgment he had displayed that I would have to take corrective action. I then let him know that I was suspending him for one day without pay to give him time to consider the gravity of the matter and to reflect on what his action should be if this happens again in the future.
When the custodian left he thanked me for being fair and not firing him. Of course, once he left my office, the Human Resource Director reminded me that I was now in trouble because I was ordered to fire him. I asked her a very simple question. “Would you have fired him once you uncovered all the facts?”
The person who ordered me to fire him was furious with me and demanded I call the custodian back in and fire him. I let him know we did not have grounds to fire him and that my handling of the situation would stand up to any court in the land. He begrudgingly relented when he saw the HR Director nod her head in agreement.
Do you want to be an exceptional leader? Then be guided by justice when dealing with your people.