April/May 2002 Issue Number 34
a monthly electronic newsletter which links current events and issues
to the daily challenges faced by fire and emergency services managers.
Current topics in the areas of leadership development, workplace diversity,
change management, and conflict resolution will be discussed.
hope that you find the information here useful and provocative.
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West: April 28-May 2 at the Sacramento Convention Center. Call
888-299-8016 for more information.
Conference of Women in Policing: April 30- May 4, Washington DC.
for more details.
and Command School presented by Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute,
May 1-8 at the Adams Mark Hotel, Dallas, TX. Linda Willing will be
on the faculty for this program. Go to www.mfri.org
for more information about the course.
Annual Women Chief Fire Officers Fire Service Leadership Conference
November 8-10, 2002 at Motorola University, Schaumburg, Illinois.
Call 630-990-2390 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
for more information.
When Policies Do More Harm than Good
workplace has them, sometimes volumes of them. They are workplace
policies that address everything from dress codes, harassment prevention
and reporting, ethics, and public conduct. But do your polices really
have the desired effect? Are they making the workplace more fair,
inclusive and equitable, or are they doing more harm than good?
the case of Jeffrey Janes, a meat cutter for a Wal-Mart Superstore.
Mr. Janes had worked for Wal-Mart for five years and been promoted
twice during that time. By all accounts, he was a good employee. In
the summer of 1995, Mr. Janes noticed that what he considered to be
edible meat had been discarded because it was past its sales expiration
date. The meat had been put into an outside trash bin to be hauled
away by a salvage company. Mr. Janes took some of the discarded meat
and cooked it up into a carne asada lunch for himself and several
other employees. He did this on several occasions, always on his free
time during lunch.
Wal-Mart found out what Mr. Janes was doing, they fired him, saying
that he had stolen from his employer. Wal-Mart has a very strict policy
about employees taking anything from the store- according to the policy,
employees may not even eat the candy that falls from a broken bag.
Mr. Janes sued Wal-Mart for wrongful termination. The case was decided
in his favor in the lower court, and again in the 9th Circuit Court
of Appeals. The court said, "Manifest injustice would not result
from allowing an employee fired for eating a few pieces of expired
meat to keep his jury award."
course employers do not want workers to steal from them, and most
have polices which address this. But Wal-Mart's zero tolerance policy
ended up doing more harm than good in this circumstance. How much
money did Wal-Mart spend fighting this case in court and on appeal?
How much credibility was lost with their employees? How much time
was wasted trying to win this case?
tolerance policies are always dangerous because they do not consider
context or intention. In this case, an employee took something that
had been thrown away (and which Walmart would have paid someone to
haul off), and put it to good use. Other employees in the store benefitted.
One can only imagine how store employees reacted after Mr. Janes was
enforcement of policies even when they don't make sense is one of
the best ways to destroy morale and create workplace subversives.
No one wants to work for someone they feel is an unreasonable jerk.
Although they may be forced into meeting the letter of the law, the
spirit is often another matter. Carne asada lunches may have only
been the beginning at that Wal-Mart store.
could Wal-Mart have handled the situation differently? How about embracing
the behavior and using it as a way of boosting workplace morale? Wal-Mart
could have sponsored a weekly employee barbecue. Or they could have
started a program where meat that does not sell in a timely way is
donated to a local shelter, with employees delivering the donations.
Certainly clinging to their rigid policy and ultimately losing twice
in court was the worst possible strategy for the development of good
workplace attitudes and practice.
case provides just one example of how workplace policies may actually
do more harm than good. More examples will be offered in future columns.
Source: Janes v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., 9th Circuit Court of Appeals,