Did First Time Offense Merit This Punishment?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about discipline:

I am a receptionist and yesterday received a written warning and 12 months on my record. I muttered “Stupid” under my breath in my own work area after I thought a patient had gone. I really regret saying it, but I was upset as I had really tried to help him but he was very angry and verbally abusive. He complained at the comment he heard. I straight away told my manager what I had done and that I had tried to say I was sorry but the patient would not listen to me.The manager said he thought that even though I had admitted the comment and was very sorry, it deserved a written warning and 12 months on my record.

The other receptionists have said worse in our work area and he has never even told them off. In the past he has told me I irritated him when speaking on the phone to patients, and said I was too nice! So, I know he does not like me, but I think I should have received a verbal warning since I have never done anything before. I am worried if I contest it, he might have it in for me. What do you think?

Signed, Worried

Dear Worried:

Formal discipline is not only based on prior offenses, but also on the severity of the offense. So, you should consider what you think would be the opinion of the person higher than your manager about your actions with the patient. Honestly, your manager probably could have justified much worse action–including dismissal–according to the overall situation. So, you might not want this to come to the attention of anyone higher in the organization who will say it is not enough action!

If, on the other hand, you know of similar events that have been complained about and formally investigated, in which the discipline was much less, you might want to contest it based on that precedent. The culture of your organization also will have something to do with it. Is your manager usually supported? He probably will be this time as well. Do you have a lot of friends in higher positions and a good reputation with them, and he doesn’t? Then, you might stand a better chance of having the recommended discipline lowered.I’m not sure what you mean by “12 months on my record.”

If you mean you are on a probationary status for a year, I can see that would be worrisome, but there is no reason you can’t go a full year without saying or doing something discourteous or making serious mistakes.It sounds as though part of this is a perception on your part that your manager doesn’t like you and that you two do not have a good working relationship. That may be the truth. It will probably be up to you to improve that somewhat, even if you never become close. I think you could help yourself tremendously through all of this by viewing your manager as someone from whom you can learn. At least you can learn what he thinks is good work and what is not. You know he doesn’t think insulting remarks to patients is good work, but that is no surprise! Find out what he meant by the remark that sometimes you are too nice.For example, he probably didn’t mean you were too courteous, but rather that you gave in on a policy or that you agreed to something that created problems. Maybe not–but until you ask him you won’t know for sure.He may also have suggestions for how you can get assistance next time a patient is unpleasant and you can feel yourself becoming upset.

One of the best ways to handle that is to say, “Let me get Sharon to come over and work with us on this. I may not be explaining it as well as possible.” What difference does it make if you sound as though you don’t have as much knowledge as someone else? At least you get helped and you’ll have a witness to how unpleasant the patient is.The bottom line is that you know you were wrong. Saying you were sorry doesn’t take back the bad feelings or help the patient feel better about the office. You might be able to contest the written warning and have it reduced to a verbal warning. But that probably won’t make any difference if something bad happens again.Your best action is probably to let your manager know you’re sorry all of this happened and to reassure him that you are going to work on all the things that led up to it, to make sure it never happens again. Ask for assistance if you need it.

Then, focus on doing good work and let this become part of a unpleasant memory that will be overshadowed by more positive things very soon.Best wishes to you in this. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what you decide and what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.