Employees who file EEOC or other complaints about discrimination are protected from retaliation for doing so. But that doesn’t mean employers aren’t allowed to discipline employees who have complained—if the situation legitimately calls for discipline.
You must, however, be very careful to document the underlying reasons.
Recent case: When Prem Bhama, a 68-year-old man of Indian heritage, was passed over for a promotion, he suspected age and national-origin discrimination. He filed an EEOC complaint.
Bhama worked in radiology at a hospital and had received mixed reviews over the years. After he filed the complaint, the hospital began warning Bhama that he needed to keep his work area cleaner and should not joke with patients.
Then patient complaints began streaming in. One claimed Bhama drew blood without using gloves or washing his hands. Another said he began a procedure, but then stopped when he discovered he didn’t have the right drugs on hand. Finally, a patient fled the radiology department after Bhama put her on a chair next to a blood splattered wall and proceeded to pick up a bloody cotton ball with his bare hands before approaching the patient for a blood draw. The hospital fired Bhama.
That’s when he added a retaliation count to his lawsuit.
But the court tossed out the case, citing the well-documented and escalatingBhama seemed to be experiencing. (Bhama v. Mercy Memorial, No. 09-2193, 6th Cir., 2011)
- Try out accommodation, rescind it if necessary
- Double-Check discharge rationale if employee participated in FLSA action
- Don't let complaint interfere with legitimate discipline
- Think twice before doing anything to discourage employee lawsuit
- 'No comment' is best response when reporters call about a firing