Treat All Employees with Fairness



Gary Ludwig, MS, EMT-P | From the May 2014 Issue | Friday, May 2, 2014

Being fair to your employees is easier said than done. Some work their tails off, follow the rules, love the profession and are all-around nice people. Others are lazy, self-centered, get by doing the minimal amount of work, use their sick leave as soon as they accrue it, and generally just skate through the job.

Is it possible to treat both employee types the same way? You can, but it’s hard.

Employees want to be personally treated with special considerations but also want other employees to be treated according to the rules. Most also like when another is disciplined, as it makes for good gossip. Who doesn’t want to get let off with a warning after getting pulled over by a police officer for speeding, but doesn’t have a problem letting out a little smile when the red Corvette that sped past us like we were standing still gets pulled over? It’s your job is to treat all employees as if they’re driving the same car.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my 30+ years in leadership positions, it’s that I can’t make all my employees happy all the time. This is an undisputable and irrefutable fact. Even if you do treat everyone fairly, someone will always think another employee is getting something they aren’t. This can cause them to harbor resentment, which you likely won’t realize since they dare not say anything to you.

The only thing you can do is remain ethical and continue to treat people equally. Let’s say you have a policy in your EMS organization that three tardies results in a disciplinary action, and someone has just arrived late for a third day. This isn’t one of your model employees, so you’re not feeling too bad about what you’re doing.

You pull the employee into your office, discuss their poor scheduling habits, talk about what might be causing the tardies, and give them ideas about correcting the behavior to make sure they arrive on time. At the end, you pull out a written reprimand for them to sign, acknowledging they received it.

Two weeks later, however, one of your best employees who works hard, shows up to work an hour early, and never causes a problem starts to have some car trouble. This model employee talks to you about the problems they’re having with the car and his plans to have it fixed on his time off. But before he can get it fixed, he manages to accrue three tardies.

You look the other way since you know their tardiness is legitimate and not a result of oversleeping or leaving for work late, and he isn’t disciplined.

You haven’t set yourself up for failure, but you’ve let your emotions and subjectivity override your job as a manager. You’ve removed all objectivity from what you’re supposed to be doing: providing leadership for your organization.

As much as we would like to treat our best and most diligent employees with a different set of rules, we can’t. Remember, you must treat all employees as if they’re driving the same car, even if that car breaks down. However, you can certainly help them. For example, maybe you can help the employee with car problems by following them to the mechanic and giving them a ride home after they drop it off.

Treating employees differently is also a dangerous area if you have a diverse workforce and some of your employees fall into protected classes. They’re certainly within their right to file a charge of employment discrimination if they’re receiving different treatment than others and
feel shortchanged.

Most people like to be liked, and even managers can’t escape this normal human condition of wanting to be thought of fondly. But leadership isn’t a popularity contest. The best course of action is treating all employees as fairly as possible. It may not feel the best at the time, but it will certainly save you frustrations down the line.

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Administration and Leadership

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Related Topics: Administration and Leadership, Leadership and Professionalism, fairness, equality, ems leaders, employees, discipline, Jems Leadership Sector

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Gary Ludwig, MS, EMT-P

is a deputy fire chief with the Memphis (TN) Fire Department. He has over 35 years of fire, EMS, and rescue experience. He is also the immediate past Chair of the EMS Section for the IAFC. He can be reached at


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