Have you ever fired someone for violating a company safety rule? In this case, a company did just that and then found itself in court on a charge of racial discrimination.
Georgia-Pacific fired supervisor Ezra Brady for instructing an employee to use an improper lockout procedure. The plant manager claimed the result was that an energy source wasn’t isolated and employees were at risk. The company said Brady willfully violated company policy.
The company had safety rules in its employee handbook that spelled out lockout requirements.
Brady filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging that he’d been fired as a result of racial discrimination. Brady says he was fired for a first offense, while two white employees were only suspended for three days for the same offense.
When the EEOC found reasonable cause that Georgia-Pacific had racially discriminated against him, Brady filed a lawsuit against the company. G-P asked to have the case thrown out.
The court agreed to throw out Brady’s lawsuit because he didn’t prove that his employer gave preferential treatment to another employee under nearly identical circumstances.
In one situation in which a white employee was suspended, the worker was making repairs on a conveyor and reached far enough into it to have required a lock-out. The plant manager said this employee was only suspended for three days because he didn’t put any other employees in danger. The court found this didn’t qualify as a nearly identical circumstance.
In the second case, a manager and two other employees were conducting an inspection. One employee turned off a breaker to a machine. None of the three had a lock for the breaker, and the manager decided one wasn’t needed because he was supervising the situation. That manager also received a three-day suspension. Management said this case was not a willful violation of company policy because the manager thought he was doing the right thing. Once again, the court said this didn’t qualify as a nearly identical circumstance.
The take-home: Companies can enforce policies that call for firing employees for certain safety infractions. They just need to be careful that disciplinary measures are applied equally.
What does your company policy say about penalties for safety violations? Has your company ever fired someone for safety reasons? Let us know in the Comments Box below.