Is a procedural short cut punishable?

On the one hand, procedures are set up to be followed. On the other, employees should be encouraged to use their imagination and initiative.
By Raymond Dreyfack April 1, 1998

On the one hand, procedures are set up to be followed. On the other, employees should be encouraged to use their imagination and initiative. Where does one draw the line?

Maintenance department Fork lift Operator Bill Falk figured he could save an extra trip by stacking his vehicle with more cases of heavy components than the procedure manual called for. When the load toppled, damaging four cartons of merchandise, Foreman Frank Sutter felt Falk should be penalized for failing to follow instructions. He handed the employee a disciplinary layoff.

Falk protested the suspension on the grounds that he was trying to save time on the job, and also that he had misjudged the load’s weight, a human error anyone could have made. Sutter contended that an experienced operator like Falk should have calculated the weight beforehand, and should have understood the dangers of overload.

When Falk threatened a grievance unless the suspension was lifted, Sutter made a beeline for his boss’ office.

Question: Do you think the suspension was justified?

Benson’s verdict: Plant Engineer Ralph Benson agreed with Sutter that an experienced operator like Falk should have had the good sense to check the load’s weight before transporting it. Nonetheless he instructed the foreman to reduce the penalty to an official warning notice.

“For one thing,” he said, “Falk is a well-rated worker. Although his judgment was faulted, his intentions were good. In addition, similar accidents have occurred in the past, admittedly with less or no damage involved, in which no discipline was imposed. When a discipline is imposed, consistency is usually a major consideration in rulings by arbitrators.”

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