When you know it’s time to discharge an employee, don’t let excessive fear of a lawsuit immobilize you. The fact is, employers do make mistakes, but not all their errors lead to liability.
If your reason for firing an employee is rational and honest, it will likely stand up in court. Even though it may turn out you were wrong, that doesn’t mean you broke the law. Good documentation of your reasoning is a key factor.
Recent case: After the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) changed her shift, Volanda Jones took leave to care for her sick son. She also filed an EEOC complaint and went to work for a senior citizens’ community, Somerby, at University Park.
The VA became suspicious that she might have falsified her leave application, and it called her new employer. Somerby called Jones in for a meeting, where her boss said she became defensive, refused to answer questions and shouted. Somerby, concluding Jones was uncooperative and untrustworthy, fired her.
Jones sued, claiming her firing was due to the EEOC complaint she filed against the VA. She explained that she’d been evasive at the meeting because the questioning seemed unfair and she had to raise her voice because of laryngitis.
The 11th Circuit sided with Somerby, concluding that honestly thought Jones was uncooperative and untrustworthy. While that might not have been the case, the key was that management fired her based on that belief, not as an excuse for her suit against the VA. (Jones v. Department of Veterans Affairs, et al., No. 06-12293, 11th Cir., 2007)
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