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Case 10-1 Willful Violation, or a Problem That Can Be Corrected?
Sandy Clark has worked for Healthy Meals Company for 10 years in a facility that cooks and packages prepared, frozen meals. Sandy is part of a crew that provides cleaning and sanitation services for the equipment used to prepare the meals. She has always sustained an excellent work record with no complaints about her work performance. She was recently assigned to the night shift to clean and sanitize the equipment used to mix and dispense sauce for the meals. The equipment consists primarily of a large vat and a rotating paddle with wooden blades driven by an electrical motor to continuously stir the sauce. After the meal preparation crew finishes production for the day shift, Sandy’s work begins cleaning and sanitizing the equipment for production the next day.
Sandy was trained to clean and sanitize the equipment by observing an experienced member of the sanitizing crew who had been performing the work for the past three years. During her training, she was instructed to use a high-pressure water hose, bleach, and sanitizing cleaner on the paddle blades and the lower part of the vat, then use a sponge pad to scrub the top part of the vat. Her trainer explained that the best way to get the wooden paddles thoroughly clean was to spray them while the machine was running, then turn off the equipment and lock it out before she used the sponge pad to clean the inside of the vat. After two days of training, she demonstrated to the person who trained her that she could satisfactorily perform all the duties of cleaning the equipment.
During her second week of working alone cleaning the vat and the wooden paddles of sauce residue, she was spraying the paddles using the high-pressure water hose while the machine was running with the paddles turning in the vat. While holding the sponge pad in one hand and holding the hose nozzle in the other hand, she finished spraying the moving paddles and accidently dropped the pad from her hand into the vat. She reached to grab the sponge pad as a reflex action and the fingertips of her rubber gloves were caught between the wall of the vat and the paddle. The paddle pulled her right hand further into the hopper up to her knuckles. Immediately, a nearby coworker turned off the equipment and freed Sandy’s hand. Fortunately, she suffered only minor injuries to her hand. She later stated that she reacted to reach for the pad and catch it to avoid damage to the equipment. After an investigation was conducted by a safety inspector, the company’s management stated that Sandy did not follow the proper procedure for cleaning the equipment by first unplugging the power cord for the motor then locking out the electrical source to assure that no one started the motor. This procedure was to be followed before any cleaning of the equipment was started.
Sandy, during her rebuttal, claims that discharge is too severe when you consider her work performance for ten years of service to the company and she was never told by any management official that her job performance was unacceptable. According to two other employees who previously held this job, training for these duties was typically done with instruction and observation by someone who had earlier carried out the tasks. Sandy points out that she has followed the procedure for cleaning and sanitizing that she was taught by another employee during her training and no one has ever instructed her otherwise. She adds that she has learned by her mistake and that she would not make that mistake again. She believes that progressive discipline should be used in this particular case. Sandy was subsequently fired for “willfully violating the company’s proper safety procedures.”
Do the facts in this case indicate that Sandy Clark was guilty of a willful violation of the company’s safety rules? Explain your answer.
What possible corrective action could the company take as an alternative to discharge?
If Sandy is represented by a labor union with a current labor agreement or contract stating that “employees shall only be discharged for just cause,” how could this affect her termination?
What particular mitigating factors or circumstances in this case should be considered in determining whether or not her termination is for “just cause?”
Case created by Robert F. Wayland, University of Arkansas at Little Rock
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