The HR lesson for this week is about a man who worked for a company for 15+ years and may have let a little toilet paper get between him and his job. I am open to other points of view on his behavior since I am clear on how I would have approached this situation. Let’s just say his performance with this company was impeccable. He was respected by his peers. More importantly, he did his job. This employee noticed that the company would throw away the unused toilet paper in the men’s bathroom whether completely used or not. He found the company to be wasteful in throwing away this toilet paper daily, so he asked one of the janitors to keep them for him. The janitor obliged and one day as he was exiting the bathroom with said toilet paper he was spotted by someone in HR.
What did HR do?
Next thing he knows he is whisked into a meeting with 7-10 people letting him know that they were aware of his theft of the toilet paper. They went on to express their disappointment and the leniency they exhibited by not having him charged for fraud. In the end, they fired this employee and flushed the 15+ years of service down the toilet.
If I take my HR hat off for a bit and examine this, I find myself perplexed by their hasty decision. I also say to myself, why was this grounds for termination? All he did was take toilet paper doomed for the trash off of their hands. I don’t disagree that in this context the toilet paper was company property. However, I question whether termination was too harsh given this person’s record.
Sometimes it isn’t the blatant infractions of rules or policies that stump us as employee relations professionals; but rather the oddball, infrequent ER issues that crop up.
Here are some of my thoughts around how you might approach this issue:
- The employee never had any performance issues prior to this incident. I would rather warn this person that this particular behavior is not permitted and issue a warning rather than to lose an otherwise great employee.
- Did this incident harm anyone, infringe on someone’s civil rights, cost the company money, and tarnish the company’s reputation? If the answer is “no” all around, it can probably be dealt with internally; without idol threats of legal action or immediate termination.
- The warning would have been issued with the knowledge that the next time he was found taking this it could result in a write-up or up to termination. Remember that thing called progressive discipline? Yeah that.
- Less is more in an initial employee relations meeting. It is both intimidating and unnecessary to have 7-10 people in the room at that time.
- Maybe this is an opportunity for us to look at ourselves from an organizational standpoint. Is throwing unused toilet paper out a waste? I would say so. Perhaps there is room for us to look at better ways of managing this “company asset” going forward.
There are difficult employee relations issues that require swift and even harsh punishment. This one was not one of those instances in my book. Part of being a good great HR professional is having a keen sense of discernment for the organizational situations you encounter and being able to make a sound decisions that match the impact of the problem.