After All These Years, John Wooden: Still Relevant After All These Years, John Wooden: Still Relevant

After All These Years, John Wooden: Still Relevant

Who? C’mon, you remember John Wooden. The Wizard of Westwood (he coached UCLA to 10 NCAA national basketball championships – 7 in a row), Purdue’s 3­­­­­­-time consensus All-American in basketball, a.k.a the Sage of Martinsville, Indiana. Go ahead and Google him, particularly his philosophical observations about teamwork, effort, and performance.

Consider now for a moment the corporate speak mantra of “hire slow and fire fast” presently in vogue as a model for HR professionals. Catchy as a motto? Yes! Successful in practice? Not exactly! Among the many teaching moments passed along by Mr. Wooden was “Be quick but don’t hurry.” Step back and apply the essence of Coach Wooden’s advice to your own experience. Compare his admonition about not hurrying with that of firing fast. Where would you rather be strategically when the EEOC charge is filed, the grievance is presented, or the lawsuit is commenced by the disgruntled employee or former employee? Evidence – hard evidence – of working with that employee, counseling, and engaging in progressive discipline should be at-hand under most circumstances when these employment disputes arise. It’s how you win, personally and professionally, at the administrative level, before an arbitrator or a jury. In short, firing fast may backfire.

If Coach Wooden is too “old school,” revisit yet another “old school” set of principles developed by Arbitrator Carroll Daugherty. These 7 key steps for establishing “just cause” for discipline are perhaps more relevant today than when first set forth exactly 50 years ago. Measure the discipline under consideration (an effort implying “don’t hurry”) against the following:

  1. Notice. Was the employee aware of the potential consequences of the conduct at issue?
  2. Reasonable Rule or Order. Was the rule or management directive related to (a) the safe and efficient operation of the business or (b) a level of performance in line with reasonable expectations?
  3. Investigation. Before administering the discipline, was a demonstrable effort made to determine if in fact the employee violated that rule or directive?
  4. Fair Investigation. Was the investigation an objective one, e.g., all material witnesses interviewed and evidence considered?
  5. Burden of Proof Satisfied. In weighing the results of the investigation, was there substantial evidence that the employee committed the disciplinary offense?
  6. Equal Treatment. As a matter of comparison, was there a track record of the employee applying its rules and imposing discipline without discrimination as to all employees who committed the same or similar offenses?
  7. Punishment. Did the punishment imposed fit the offense committed and, if so, was the employee’s record of service with the employer considered?
“Be quick but don’t hurry” is part of the DNA within the 7 steps for just cause. When working through a challenging disciplinary issue, time is not finite but rather infinite. Talk it through and assess where the company stands should it be necessary to defend against the action decided upon. You can take your time so to speak and in doing so you will insulate and protect your employers/your business from being on the short end of costly employment disputes, including litigation.

To quote John Wooden one last time: “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?” You won’t because after the fact is too late. 

For further information on labor and employment law, contact Mark Ford or a member of our Labor, Employment and Immigration practice.

This publication is intended for general information purposes only and does not and is not intended to constitute legal advice. The reader should consult with legal counsel to determine how laws or decisions discussed herein apply to the reader’s specific circumstances.
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