In The Workplace

A 50-year-old department clerk, father of five children of school age, was caught by a newly assigned security guard bringing out of the office a small quantity of stationery. The offender, an average work performer, has been with the company for 15 years and has no prior record. Our policy considers this as qualified theft and grounds for dismissal. The chief executive officer (CEO) tasked the human resource (HR) manager to decide on the case, while the department head recommends a five-day suspension instead of termination. If you were the HR manager, what would you do? — Blue Mountain.

Almost all religions preach compassion. But then, when confronted with an actual situation, most people would agonize about the right approach.

Psychologists have spent decades of research to understand the meaning of compassion and human suffering.

Emma Seppala, a director at The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford Medical School, says “human suffering is often accompanied by beautiful acts of compassion by others wishing to relieve it.” This is seen in the case of volunteers serving food at homeless shelters or in people who stop on the highway in the rain to help someone with a broken-down vehicle.

To some, acts of compassion (or empathy) are difficult to understand except to explain it as “an automatic mirroring of another’s emotion.” Therefore, if a stranger can volunteer to help another stranger in need, what more a person be-longing to the same organization? This is where HR should perform a delicate balancing act.

This requires a fair and impersonal judgment of what is right, considering the interests of the offender-employee and those of the whole organization.


If “survival of the fittest” describes people in a rat race, a contrary maxim calls for “survival of the kindest,” which generates a lot of positive vibes in the workplace. Being kind is the most welcome as it generates tons of acceptance.

As I’ve said in my previous articles, people management is an act of kindness. It automatically expires the moment workers show that they don’t deserve such kindness from management. It is in this light that HR professionals must consider the needs of both employees and management.

This is the time when HR must decide on the best solution. HR may be misunderstood. But as long as the decision is right and fair, all you have to do is to explain it gently to those who may feel unhappy about your decision. Take it from the department manager.

He has already recommended that the penalty be reduced to a one-week suspension instead of dismissal. Without your knowing for sure, other employees may support such an approach. It becomes a matter of writing a balanced decision that does not set a bad precedent. In writing such a decision, the HR manager must consider the following:

One, emphasize due process. This requires giving the employee both the substantive and procedural aspects of due process. Give the worker an ample chance and opportunity to explain his side of the story.

Two, state the decision finding the worker to have committed the offense. Cite the specific provision of the Code of Conduct and other pertinent provisions of the Labor Code. Explain how management came to the collective decision. Take note of a Supreme Court decision finding that dismissal is too harsh.

Three, explain that the penalty is reduced to suspension. The HR manager may increase the recommended suspension from five days to 10 days or even more. Also, the suspension must reflect a pro-rata deduction to 13th month pay and other cash allowances and benefits when they become due.

Four, include a disclaimer against setting precedent. Emphasize it clearly that future offenders may not use such case if it favors them. Do this even if you treat the case with utmost confidentiality and you promise to treat each case differently.


I’ve implemented compassionate justice in a number of cases brought before me in the past. I was happy to note that the experience taught me many valuable lessons. Compassion can go a long way in reforming employees. Many of them have succeeded in changing their image before management. They’ve become loyal to the organization.

In conclusion, however, be careful in making a decision like this even in the name of compassionate justice. Chances are, some management people, including CEOs, will object to your leniency. If that happens, you have no choice but to implement what they want — but not before explaining everything in this article.


Bring Rey Elbo’s leadership program called Superior Subordinate Supervision to your organization. For details or your workplace questions, chat with him via Facebook, LinkedIn, X (Twitter) or via