How do you handle firing a “hopeless case”?

Maintenance Foreman George Copley hired utility worker Ben Raines against his better judgment. But Raines was a minority member and the company was making a concentrated effort to bring the plant work force into better racial and ethnic balance.
By Raymond Dreyfack July 1, 1998

Maintenance Foreman George Copley hired utility worker Ben Raines against his better judgment. But Raines was a minority member and the company was making a concentrated effort to bring the plant work force into better racial and ethnic balance. Though the applicant’s IQ was below normal, Copley hoped he might somehow make the grade.

The somehow didn’t occur, and Copley became convinced it never would. Raines couldn’t get the simplest instruction right. Sweep up this or that area. Unpack this carton and put its contents on the shelf. He made Forrest Gump look like an intellectual.

Copley did his best to be patient. He spelled out every step in simple language. He made Raines repeat every instruction. Nothing helped.

After 10 mo of bending over so far backward his back ached, Copley decided it was no use. The guy was hopeless. Regretfully, he told Raines he would have to go.

For the first time in his short career, Raines knew what to do. He complained to Shop Steward Kevin White who informed Copley an employee couldn’t be fired without progressive discipline.

“Under normal conditions,” Copley agreed. “But this isn’t normal. Raines was given every chance to shape up. This employee is beyond salvation.”

White refused to settle for that explanation.

Question : Can Copley bypass progressive discipline in Raines’ case?

Parker’s verdict: Plant Engineer Cliff Parker agreed with Copley that an exception was justified. Had you applied progressive discipline, you could have fired Raines long ago. In going overboard to qualify him, you went beyond progressive discipline. You did everything humanly possible. While it’s laudable to use extreme measures in an effort to balance the workforce, no company can be expected to retain a hopeless worker indefinitely.