Communication; Delegation; Employee Problems and Problem Employees

tHe repeat offeNder

Primary Topic—Criticism and Discipline

Additional Topics—Communication; Delegation; Employee Problems and Problem Employees

“So I slipped up and made a mistake,” said chemistry technician Arnold Adams. “All that proves is that I’m human, that maybe I’m a little careless once in a while, like everybody else.”

“I can’t call your behavior carelessness,” said laboratory manager Elsie Clark. She slid a piece of paper across her desk to Arnold and continued, “I have to call it negligence, and that’s what this warning notice says.”

Arnold scowled and said, “I don’t deserve a warning and certainly not for negli- gence.” He spread his hands and added, “What am I supposed to be—perfect? I can’t make an honest mistake once in a while?”

“You can’t make mistakes like this one. The test request was clearly marked stat but you logged it in as routine and it sat for several hours.”

Arnold shrugged and said, “Nothing happened to the patient, did it?” “No,” Elsie answered, “but Dr. Baker ordered it stat because of this particular

patient’s history. Something could have happened—we’re just lucky it didn’t.” “So nothing happened,” Arnold repeated, “but I get a warning in my file? If a

warning’s supposed to be a form of punishment, how come I’m punished for some- thing that didn’t cause any harm?”

Elsie said, “Arnold, you’re all by yourself every night at the satellite. We must be able to depend on you to process all requests according to procedure and to perform all stat work as it’s received.”

Arnold simply scowled at the warning notice as Elsie added, “And this sort of thing has got to stop. This is the fourth conversation we’ve had like this, and the most serious yet.”

“Fourth?” Arnold’s eyebrows rose. Elsie nodded. “In 3 years,” she said. “I can’t believe you’d hold some thing against me that happened 3 years ago. A

warning that old ought to be wiped out. You’ve got no business using that against me.” “I’m using it only to point out a pattern. You seem to go along fine for 8 or 9

months or so, then up comes a major problem again.”

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“Just bears out what I said before,” Arnold said. “I’m human. I make mistakes. And 8 or 9 months since the last mistake entitles me to a clean slate.”

“I can’t agree,” Elsie said. She handed Arnold a pen and added, “Please sign the form to show that we’ve discussed this. You can write out any objections or com- ments in the space at the bottom. And should we have such a conversation again, you may find that more than a written warning is involved.”


1. Consider Elsie’s statement, “You can’t make mistakes like this one.” Is this a valid statement? If yes, why?

2. What is wrong with Arnold’s description of a warning as “a form of punishment?”

3. How would you deal with the repeat offender if you were in Elsie’s position?

Case 4: The Repeat Offender 37

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