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Read any good books lately? Maybe the next one you ought to pick up is your organization’s own policy and procedures handbook. If I were to quiz you about it right now, could you score 100%? If not, as one court recently warned, a judge may just ... throw the book at you!

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Case in Point: Eugene Collins, a 52-year-old African American, was promoted to a facilities manager position at a Connecticut government office. At the time of his promotion, Collins’ new boss promised him he’d be trained on the job. But he wasn’t, and early into his new position, Collins was demoted for poor performance.

Collins argued that he was never trained for his new position as was promised in the employer's standard company procedures. He also wasn’t given an opportunity to improve his performance or even given a performance review, as was also required by company policy.

Collins filed an internal complaint about being treated unfairly. He pointed to younger white male co-workers under age 40 who were in his position and had received training and opportunities to improve their performance. Soon after filing his complaint, Collins says he started to receive poor performance evaluations, which came at him fast and furiously. He was then fired within two months of his complaint.

Collins sued for race and age discrimination and retaliation, claiming the company deviated from its written policies and procedures. The company denied the charges and asserted that Collins had poor leadership skills and just couldn’t do the job.

What happened next …and what lessons can be learned?

The court tossed out the employer’s summary judgment bid and gave Collins the green light to have his case heard by a jury. The main reason: Supervisors had “deviated substantially from normal procedures” by failing to give Collins a timely first performance evaluation and on-the-job training.

The court added that, “a reasonable jury could conclude that these departures from regular procedures impacted the decision to demote Collins.” (Collins v. Connecticut Job Corps, D. Conn., 7-991, 2/8/10)

3 Lessons Learned …Without Going to Court

This all seems so basic, right? Follow your company’s policies and procedures. But, do you really know what they say?

1. Read the rules. When was the last time you sat down with a glass of milk and a whole cheesecake and really read the rules your company wrote? Do it now.

2. Use a yellow highlighter. Won’t you be shocked to find out what the rules really say? And, what they don’t?

3. Follow the rules. As the court admonished, “don’t deviate” from your own rules. You made them. You must play by them. If you do want to make a change, alert the staff first.

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