One of the simplest and most effective ways to prevent retaliation lawsuits is to follow up with the employee who complained. Remind her that you won’t tolerate retaliation, and be sure to check back at least once following the investigation.
Recent case: Deborah Cook was a mall security guard and the only woman under her boss’s supervision. Cook complained to headquarters that the supervisor wanted an all-male staff, was bad-mouthing her and often used sexist language.
The company offered Cook a transfer to a position at another mall, which she rejected. When she reported for her next scheduled shift, her supervisor told her to clean out her locker and turn in her keys. Assuming she had been terminated, she went home.
When Cook sued for sex discrimination and retaliation, the company claimed she hadn’t been fired.
The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a trial. Now a jury will decide whether she was fired and why. (Cook v. IPC International, No. 11-2502, 7th Cir., 2012)
Final note: The employer handled this situation all wrong. HR should have been involved from the beginning.
After investigating the allegations, HR should have warned Cook’s boss that the company doesn’t tolerate retaliation. Then HR should have laid down the law: no personnel decisions without our clearance. Next, it should have immediately followed up with Cook. Once HR learned Cook believed she had been fired, it should have immediately fixed the situation.
- Base light-duty policy on business necessity; enforce it consistently
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- Vague complaints not enough to trigger retaliation protection
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- Wrongful termination scores $329,000 for Sonoma State coach