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Every employer has their own set of work rules or policies that they expect their employees to follow. Any such policies should be provided to an employee in writing at the time of hire or whenever a policy might be updated or changed. A best practice is to include any such rules and policies in an Employee Handbook and requires all employees to sign an acknowledgment indicating that they have received, read, and understand the contents of the handbook. This is one of the key elements to proving that an employee is aware of your policies and understands that by not following a specific policy, they could subject themselves to the termination.

In addition, all employers should be uniformly consistent in administering their associated progressive discipline policy. For example, the company has a work rule contained in their company handbook that States: Use of a personal cell phone on the sales floor at any time is forbidden. The employer’s progressive discipline policy is a verbal warning for a first offense, a written warning for a second offense, a final written warning for a third offense and then termination on a fourth offense. Mary and John both received the company policy, and both signed an acknowledgment of receiving the company handbook. Mary and John were both observed by their manager placing personal phone calls while on the sales floor on three separate occasions each. The manager gave both Mary and John a verbal, then a written, and then a final written warning. Each was told that if they use their cell phone on the sales floor again, they will be terminated. Mary then takes a call on her cell phone on the sales floor, and the manager says, “Mary, I told you never to use your cell phone on the sales floor again.” But the Manager does not terminate Mary because she, “feels sorry for Mary’s personal circumstances.” Two days later, John is seen talking on his cell phone, and the manager immediately terminates John because he violated the cell phone policy and did not heed the final written warning.
John files an unemployment claim and is initially disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits because he was discharged due to violating a uniformly enforced company policy. John appeals that determination and requests an unemployment hearing. At the hearing, John provides unrefuted testimony that Mary violated the same policy after being placed on a final written warning and was not terminated. The hearing officer overturns the initial determination and allows John to collect unemployment benefits because although he violated company policy after being warned, he proved that the policy was not uniformly enforced.

In this example, the employer had a policy in writing in their employee handbook and had a signed acknowledgment from each employee, indicating they understood the policies. The employer also had a progressive discipline policy, and the Manager followed it as prescribed with John. However, as soon as the manager did not follow the same steps of the progressive discipline policy in a uniform manner with Mary, the manager left the door wide open for John to collect unemployment benefits. Be sure that all your managers not only follow the established policies but follow them uniformly to avoid the payment of unemployment benefits to someone who clearly did not follow your established policies.


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