Disciplinary Action

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about disciplined in presence of peers:

I am a police Officer. My Sgt. is requiring me to write a paper on driving related issues. I was written up for speeding 10 miles an hour (visually estimated) and he wants me to present to the shift briefings. I feel that I am being targeted and being humiliated in front of my peers. Is it ethical or legal to punish me in front of my peers? No one else has ever had to do this. I have not had any accidents and others have.

Signed, Humiliated

Dear Humiliated:

Having you write a paper and making a presentation about a speeding violation is clearly punishment for the violation. Organizational punishment should follow the protocol established by your department–and I would doubt that such an unconventional punishment would be directed. As you develop a plan of action, keep in mind that your sergeant may think he is saving you from a more severe organizational punishment. In that case, it might be to your benefit to comply. Or, he may, as you think, be doing this to put you on the spot unfairly. In that case, you may want to question it.

A major issue is whether or not you were speeding a city vehicle or a private one. If you were speeding in a private vehicle and were cited, you’ve had your punishment. If you were in a private vehicle but not cited, the matter is also over unless you did or said something inappropriate at the time you were contacted about it. In that case, the issue of speeding shouldn’t be involved, so you shouldn’t be writing a paper or making a presentation.

If you were driving a city vehicle the matter should have been investigated and appropriate action taken. That should involve your Internal Investigations staff, HR staff or perhaps your chief (if your department is a small one). If they directed that a paper be written and a presentation be made, I would be very surprised.

It would seem that your sergeant made a personal decision about the matter, and it is not organizationally mandated.You may want to write a letter through the chain of command asking for a review of the matter and a clarification about it.You might say, “I am not refusing to comply at this point, but before I do something that I feel is both embarrassing and extremely stressful to me, I would like to ask for a review at higher levels. I am sorry I was speeding, and realize the need for safety. I can assure you it won’t happen again. But it makes me very anxious and nervous to think of talking about this in front of everyone, and I would like to ask that I be allowed to appeal the punishment to (put the name of the rank or title of the most appropriate person here). Please let me know as soon as possible if I am approved to do so, so I can put this behind me and move forward with less stress about it.”

You may not want to use those same words, but I would strongly suggest that you emphasize your apprehension about the matter, and be firm in your desire to talk to someone about it.If your sergeant says he’s changed his mind and you don’t have to do it after all, you can decide if you still want to talk to someone else. Frankly, I think he’ll want to forget it, unless he got his orders from the chief in the first place. If that’s the case, you may want to chat with your own attorney about the disciplinary process in your organization.One last thought is to keep a focus on your ultimate goal–your long-term career success. Writing a paper and making a presentation may be a small price to pay to be considered a good sport about a potentially embarrassing–though not harmful–task. Often when an officer or employee gets in trouble, those who direct punishment go out of their way to make it up afterwards, if the officer or employee handles it with dignity. So, picture yourself in six months, a year or five years from now. How do you want to be perceived? What do you want to have said about this situation? Keep that image in mind as you develop your response. You may want to only document all of this by saving all the paperwork in case you need it, but going ahead and doing as your supervisor has directed–approaching it with a rueful smile and even perhaps saying that though you are embarrassed, you view it as paying some dues. Then, move on without complaining further. Or, you may want to write the letter I suggested, and push the matter a bit. You know your situation and the culture there best. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens. Best wishes.

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.