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Don’t allow managers to issue hasty termination letters

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Firing,HR Management,Human Resources

If you haven't already, establish a policy that says HR and/or other senior executives must review supervisors' termination proposals. The goal: Prevent supervisors from making legally dangerous firings out of anger, and ensure that you base all terminations on solidly documented performance-related reasons.

Even if the termination notice is rescinded, the legal damage may be done. As the following case shows, merely filing the notice, even temporarily, could add up to an adverse employment action under anti-bias laws.

Recent case: Letter carrier Stephen Ezell had an unblemished job record. But tensions arose after a younger, African-American woman became his supervisor. The supervisor accused Ezell of taking an extra long lunch break and gave him a formal "Notice of Removal" that said he'd be terminated in a month.

He filed a grievance, won reinstatement and had the termination letter knocked down to a warning. He also filed a complaint with the EEOC, alleging the original termination letter was an "adverse employment action" that supports a Title VII and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) claim.

The Postal Service argued that the original letter wasn't an adverse action because it was withdrawn before it took effect. But a federal appeals court disagreed and sided with Ezell. It said the termination letter "damaged" Ezell from the time it was issued until it was reversed. While the harm may have been modest, the letter created an adverse employment action nonetheless. (Ezell v. Potter, No. 03-4099, 7th Cir., 2005)

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