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Make amends fast if mistake harms worker

by on
in Employment Law,Firing,HR Management,Human Resources

Supervisors accused of discrimination sometimes lose their tempers—and then proceed to say or do something stupid. When that happens, act fast to step in and make amends.

That’s especially important if the affected employee has walked off the job. The key is to make the employee understand that he still has a job and should return to work.

Recent case: Trent Chapin worked as a salesman for a car dealership. He filed an EEOC discrimination claim and then went to work for a related dealership.

When his new boss found out about the EEOC claim, the two had a heated exchange in which Chapin was told that if he wanted to continue working for the dealership, he needed to withdraw his complaint. Chapin had apparently anticipated an argument because he surreptitiously recorded the exchange.

He didn’t withdraw the complaint and never returned to work, alleging he had been fired. But as soon as he left, the dealership, apparently realizing its mistake, began trying to persuade Chapin that he still had a job.

Chapin sued for wrongful termination.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that Chapin couldn’t claim he had been fired under the circumstances. Essentially, the court concluded that a reasonable employee would have showed up for work to see what would happen next. Chapin instead filed suit even when it became apparent the company really wasn’t going to press him to withdraw his EEOC complaint and wanted him back at work. (Chapin v. Fort-Rohr Motors, No. 09-1347, 7th Cir., 2010)

Final note: If you can, persuade the supervisor who was out of line that he must immediately apologize and make amends. Then follow up with the employee, again explaining that he has not been fired and should return to work.

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