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Lawsuit-proof your HR operations: Document business reason for every decision

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in Discrimination and Harassment,HR Management,Human Resources

It’s difficult to predict which employee will be the next to sue. That’s why your best defense is to treat every major employment-related decision as a potential lawsuit.

How? Back it up with a solid, business-related justification.

Recent case: Iva Lue-Martin, a black woman of Jamaican origin, was hired as an HR manager with March Group in February 2002.

Later, the company engaged consultants to review its business practices. The consultants concluded that March Group needed to add a comptroller, reorganize work and outsource payroll functions.

The company said it didn’t have money to do so and the consultants then suggested that Lue-Martin’s position could be eliminated, outsourcing her tasks or distributing them among other employees. March terminated Lue-Martin a little over a year after taking the job.

She sued, alleging discrimination.

But the company was ready with a solid business reason for its termination decision: The consultants had recommended the action based on genuine business needs. Lue-Martin couldn’t point to anything else that even hinted at national origin, race or sex discrimination. (Lue-Martin v. March Group, No. 08-4128, 3rd Cir., 2010)

Final note: Don’t rely strictly on memory to explain termination decisions. Instead, get everything down on paper so you can easily retrieve it later. This practice also builds discipline and can prevent hidden agendas from poisoning decisions. Just as you never know which employee will sue, you never know which supervisor harbors secret prejudices.

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