When an employee violates company policy for the right reasons

Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on September 29, 2014

Periodically, reports in the news tell of an employee who is terminated for violating a company policy, even when doing so is a positive outcome for the company, the company’s customers or the public. When the employee’s action is favorable in the public’s eye, rather than enjoy the reputational benefit, the company terminates the individual and suffers a reputational loss. These companies have zero tolerance for not following policy. Is this the right approach?

There are good reasons for company policies and for holding employees accountable for following them. However, is there ever an occasion when an employee should be celebrated rather than terminated for violating a company policy?

Many years ago, early in my career when I was a young division business manager, a customer reported that a product we had produced was found to have a trace amount of contaminants. We needed to recall the product that was shipped to a number of distributors, who in turn shipped the product to many end-users.

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