Making Staff Pay for Mistakes

October 1, 2007

My medical assistant put an expensive vaccine in a freezer instead of a refrigerator, wasting $1,080 worth of supply. Is it legally permissible to levy a financial punishment? I am planning to reduce her year-end bonus. What else is acceptable?

Question: My medical assistant put an expensive vaccine in a freezer instead of a refrigerator, wasting $1,080 worth of supply. Is it legally permissible to levy a financial punishment? I am planning to reduce her year-end bonus. What else is acceptable?

Answer: My sense is that this is more a matter of fairness than legality. My opinion: You can put something in your employment contract making employees liable for specific things, but I think it’s water under the bridge in this instance. And, you know, we all make mistakes, right? She is unlikely to make the same mistake twice. And while it’s painful, loss happens. If she were purposefully or continually negligent, your real job would be to fire her. But to punish an otherwise good employee for one mistake seems like missing the forest for the trees.