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Sound policy beats post-firing lawsuits

by on
in Discrimination and Harassment,Firing,Human Resources

You just terminated an employee for misconduct or poor performance. A few weeks later, you receive an EEOC complaint alleging that the employee suffered years of harassment and discrimination. If you didn’t have clear rules in place for reporting such conduct, you may be facing years of litigation.

It’s yet another reason why you should regularly update your handbook and remind employees exactly how they should complain about mistreatment or discrimination.

Recent case: McKinley was a yard worker for Peri Formworks. The company had a zero-tolerance policy for working while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. It also required testing after an accident and upon reasonable suspicion.

When several supervisors thought McKinley was behaving oddly at work, management ordered him to undergo a drug and alcohol screening. Despite gulping down five cups of coffee on the way to the testing facility, McKinley tested positive for alcohol. He was fired.

Shortly after losing his job, he sued, alleging he had been forced to work in a racially and sexually hostile workplace.

His case was quickly dismissed after the company explained its harassment and discrimination policy, which included training on how to complain. The handbook, which McKinley had read, said employees should call HR and speak with the director about any workplace discrimination complaints. McKinley never did that. His claims after he was fired weren’t good enough. (Lambert v. Peri Formworks System, No. 10-C-6789, SD IL, 2012)

Final note: Always include a general nondiscrimination statement and specific reporting information in your handbook. Explain how to bypass a supervisor who may be the source of the harassment or discrimination. Get employee signatures to acknowledge that they received the policy and understand how it works. Then issue regular reminders in the company newsletter, on paystubs and at review time.

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