I had a family emergency and needed to take a personal call from my father for 90 minutes during work against family policy. As a result, I was disciplined by my supervisor for failing to punch out during the call, as well as for taking long breaks, and being late one day. I had never been issued a warning (verbal or written) for any of these other behaviors, and many of them are things my coworkers have done without any consequence (we take breaks together at the same time).

I feel this is unfair, but at the same time I know that I broke the rules (albeit due to a personal family emergency). I want to address this selective enforcement, but would like guidance on how to judge what an appropriate response would be. How should I go about that?

Some background:

I was suspended and sent home because of my failure to clock out during a family emergency. During that emergency, I had a 90 minute phone conversation with my father.

When I discussed the offence with my manager, he told me that I was disciplined because I was late one day, I take long breaks, and I violated company cell phone policy.

Here is some additional background information:

  • I worked the evening shift for 9 months without any issues. Eventually, they moved me to the day shift. After the transition, I came in late a few times, but I was not the only one.
  • After the transition, I took breaks with my coworkers. We resumed work at the same time; but I was the only one cited for taking long breaks.
  • Everybody makes cell phone calls. I had a family emergency.
  • I had no written warnings before the official discipline.
  • My manager never told me that I was violating company policy.

1 - I had not been issued any notice or warning before. No procedure was followed. My workplace has an HR department and all the handbook rules and regulations.

2 - We work building to building and we use personal phone for making contact with managers and supervisors. Also there is only our personal phone to accept family emergency calls.

3 - I am in lifting team and we have been told to take extra breaks if needed because some time we get real heavy stuff.

4 - Maybe our body can fight for 3 months to change sleeping schedule, but our families can't, and we didn't decline to go for morning shift for 3 months.

closed as off-topic by Joe Strazzere, jcmeloni, squeemish, CincinnatiProgrammer, IDrinkandIKnowThings Aug 26 '13 at 17:10

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "Questions seeking legal advice are off-topic as they require answers by legal professionals. See: What is asking for legal advice?" – Joe Strazzere, jcmeloni, squeemish, IDrinkandIKnowThings
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • What country are you in? For various reasons this sounds you're working somewhere in Asia. There are many countries where such policies are legal, even if they aren't good practice. You need to talk to people in your country. – Meredith Poor Aug 24 '13 at 23:46
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    It doesn't matter what other people due. If you violated policy, which you have already admitted to doing, you should not be surprised by the consequences. – squeemish Aug 25 '13 at 14:52
  • I am in USA and work for maintenance company. – Imtiaz Ali Aug 25 '13 at 18:56
  • Hi Imtiaz, it's common to edit your original post when you have more to add, not add the same comment to every answer. I removed those comments and added it to the post body. Note that this also bumps your post to the top so that others see it! Hope this helps! :) – jmort253 Aug 26 '13 at 1:31
  • Ok, so something happened that you don't really agree with, but i'm not sure what your question is. are you asking IF you should take it up the chain? are you asking WHAT you should say if you take it up the chain? are you asking if we agree that what you did was ok? Some of these are on topic others are not, could you clarify what you are looking for? – Rhys Aug 27 '13 at 11:18

I have been suspended and sent home because of failure to clock out during family emergency

Actually it would appear that you were suspended because:

  • you failed to clock out while dealing with a family emergency
  • you were late
  • you take long breaks
  • you have allegation of breaking your company's cell phone policy

By failing to clock out and taking personal a call on company time you have broken a cardinal rule of call centers. They have very strict and specific rules for a good reason, they are contracted to provide a certain amount of coverage. If you are late, or are not working when you are supposed to be, then you put the company at risk of being in breach of contract to their customer. By not clocking out when you are taking a personal call you put the company in a position where they could be billing the customer for time where you are supposed to be working but were not. You company could be in a position where they would lose their contract if they tolerate that behavior.

You mentioned:

I have not been told these allegations before


I am the only one who have been suspended.

It may be that the other issues were not enough to earn the suspension. I would suspect you knew that you were late and that it is not tolerated. I would also suspect that since you clock in and out for breaks that you knew when you took long breaks. You do not know that no one else was talked to since those problems would have been handled privately much like your talk with your manager was.

What you do know is that you have been suspended and that you have been put on notice that when you return to work that they are watching you for those issues.

  • Joe Strazzere what if cops give you ticket all the time and don't give ticket to anybody else just because you have red sports car? – Imtiaz Ali Aug 25 '13 at 19:06
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    @ImtiazAli, then buy a new car if you areawre that this is porblem. This is entirely your fault and you must accept that if you are to be succesful in the work force. It doesn't matter what other people do. What matters is your relationship with your bosses and how they perceive your work. Of course you got suspended if you took a personal call that lasted 90 minutes without going off the clock. You are very lucky you were not fired for that! – HLGEM Aug 25 '13 at 20:00
  • comments removed: For extended discussions, please use our The Workplace Chat. Comments are generally reserved for improving a post or seeking clarification. Thank you! :) – jmort253 Aug 27 '13 at 3:28
  • @ImtiazAli - They are not suspending you all the time. They suspended you one time... one time does not make a pattern. Proving discrimination requires a pattern or proof of intent, since the reason you were suspended was justifiable you are not going to find intent easy to prove. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Aug 28 '13 at 22:06

Executive Summary

"But he did it too!" isn't a justification to your parents when you get in trouble, and it doesn't work much better in the office. If these rules exist but are enforced selectively, you have to ask yourself, "Why did the company feel the need to enforce them for me and not others?"

You got caught, you need to own up to it and move on, not get indignant and make things worse.

Selective Enforcement

Many companies don't want to make silly rules like, "Do not use your personal cellphone during work hours" wishing that their employees would use common sense, but then someone spends all day playing Candy Crush on their phone rather than working and says, "But there is no rule against it!" and they end up having to create a rule to deal with it.

Most managers don't want to be the cellphone police. They trust that their employees will use common sense and not sit on their phone all day avoiding work. They turn a blind eye to occasional uses and will only step in if there is an issue. That's why enforcement seems selective -- it is usually to catch corner cases, and a majority of managers would rather not enforce them whenever possible.

Rules are Rules

You admit you broke the rules. Whether or not other people are doing it is irrelevant to whether you broke the rules. For whatever reason, the rules were selectively enforced in your case. It would be wise to figure out why. Here are some possible reasons.

As Telastyn said, your coworkers may have a better working relationship with your manager.

Perhaps your manager felt you were trying to play lawyer with the rules rather than just apologizing and moving on.

Maybe your manager had been giving you a lot of slack and hinting that you were pushing the line, and this was the last straw.

Or maybe it was just that your quality of work isn't as good as your coworkers, and so they got off easier because they're seen as more valuable.

Moving Forward

You ask:

How should I handle this?

  1. Apologize for the infraction
  2. Accept the discipline
  3. Improve your performance

You got caught. If you haven't already, apologize to your manager. Don't make excuses, don't try to justify, don't try to explain, just apologize. If you wanted to appeal to your boss' humanity, you should have spoken to him before you took the long break/90-minute call/whatever -- not after you got caught.

Accept whatever punishment is given to you. It is penance for breaking the rules. Disputing it, fighting back against it, or otherwise raising a stink will spit in the face of the apology and make it seem like you just don't understand why you were punished in the first place (this invites more selective enforcement and punishments in the future).

Use this as motivation to improve your relationship with your manager, your value to the company, and your performance in the job. Show that you may make mistakes, but that those mistakes will teach you to be a better more valuable employee in the long run.


Hey boss, sorry for the 90 minute personal call the other day. My father has been ill and I really needed to help out my family. I know I should have punched out first, but given the situation there wasn't much choice. So I'm really sorry, but you see, it wasn't my fault! So when you say you will put a note in my file and reduce my bonus this year, it isn't fair, and you need to reconsider. After all, John and Jan were taking long breaks and personal calls too!


Hey boss, sorry for the 90 minute personal call the other day. My father has been ill and I really needed to help out my family. I know I should have punched out first, but given the situation there wasn't much choice. So I'm really sorry, but you see, it wasn't my fault! So when you say you will put a note in my file and reduce my bonus this year, it isn't fair, and you need to reconsider. After all, John and Jan were taking long breaks and personal calls too!

  • 4
    IMHO it wouldn't hurt to let the boss know that it was a family emergency. That doesn't mean you should claim that as an excuse for violating the policy. – Keith Thompson Aug 26 '13 at 15:47
  • Agree with Keith with caveat: It may be that the boss will be intolerant of any explanation or the OP's relationship with the boss is so bad that it will not do any good. However, if the relationship isn't that bad and the boss is reasonable, I'd think it may be useful to say something along the lines of "I apologize for the long personal call a few days ago when I got news that my father was ill." However, the apology does need to be kept short & simple and free of pleas for reconsideration, etc. – GreenMatt Aug 26 '13 at 18:00
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    @KeithThompson I was under the impression he already knew. If not, of course it's a good idea to add that pertinent piece of information. If it's already been said, I would recommend against bringing it up again though (since it clearly didn't have the desired impact the first time, it probably won't the second time either). – jmac Aug 26 '13 at 23:16
  • Down vote for the suggestions to improve. In terms of being late sure but overall I reckon the OP would take another 90 minute phone call from their Dad if it was required again. I reckon most people would. People are not robots and family emergencies happen. Having said that I agree that the OP needs to take the punishment on the chin (or find a new place to work) – Christy Jun 26 '17 at 13:56

I would wager that your un-suspended slacking coworkers have a better working relationship with your boss than you do, or are at least more productive/valuable to the company. Sure, it's unfair application of the rules but unless you can show that it's for a particular reason in your jurisdiction it's not illegal (I am not a lawyer, this is not legal advice, etc).

Discrimination happens all the time, and often for good reasons. Someone who is invaluable to the company gets preferential treatment, someone who annoys their coworkers is ignored when they complain about something annoying them... it's part of any social network.

What to do? Your situation there may be irreparable, and a change of scenery (and trying to not reproduce your mistakes there) may be best. Otherwise a candid discussion about the suspension may be in order. Emergencies happen and it seems at least a little unfair to suspend you for just that event. Explain what your side was, and ask why it resulted in suspension. There may be safety concerns that you weren't aware of, or other things that once you understand your boss' view become more understandable.

At the very least, your boss will sense that you're looking to learn and improve rather than sulk and continue causing them trouble.

  • 1
    generally in call centers the rules are specific. There is a standard scoring system for infractions and when you reach certian points you get the proscribed penalty. I once was part of seeing one of the top CSR's for a company lose her job because she said something that was forbidden. The computerized QA monitor caught the slip there was nothing any of the managers could do to save her job. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Aug 25 '13 at 2:06

There are lots of occasions in life where labeling something (for example as discrimination) isn't going to help you or anyone else.

It's almost irrelevant to the situation whether they are wrong or not.

That's because the question is what you want to do next. Do you want to admit making a mistake, and genuinely apologize or just continue to feel that someone mistreated you?

I'd suggest that even if you feel that these people are wrong, that you make amends and handle the situation before you leave so that you can leave on good terms.

  • Just to be clear, I'm not defending anyone or blaming anyone. But sometimes in life you need to think about what you want to do next, regardless of whether you think it's fair, and regardless of whether it is fair. – dcaswell Aug 25 '13 at 18:51
  • 814604 I know what are you saying but it have been happend so many time with me and now I just want to stop this situation. It's nothing happen compare to smoking weed at sight or braking Federal laws but still there is a procedure for others but not for me. – Imtiaz Ali Aug 25 '13 at 19:04
  • @ImtiazAli - What has happen before exactly? You know what the rules are, you are breaking them, just stop breaking them. You seem to make excuses for your behavior. Just because johnny jumped off the bridge does not mean you should. – Donald Aug 30 '13 at 17:12

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