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Whistle-Blower being cut? Run termination by counsel before sending letter

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in Employment Law,Firing,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

It pays to tread cautiously when dealing with employees who have publicly criticized their employers. That means sticking to the letter of company rules and regulations and making sure your decision doesn’t smack of retaliation. Your best bet:  Speak with an attorney about any termination decisions before acting.

Recent case: Kim Thompson was a good worker with a history of stirring up workplace discord. One day she noticed rats and their droppings in a school cafeteria run by her employer, ARAMARK. She tried to complain
to the school district superintendent, but was rebuffed. Then she took pictures and went public at a school board meeting.

ARAMARK had a written policy that required employees to report any wrongdoing to management. Because Thompson went public, ARAMARK said she had acted unprofessionally. Shortly thereafter, the company fired her for the “violation of ARAMARK work rules and protocols.” She sued under the Michigan Whistleblowers’ Protection Act, alleging retaliation.

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a trial, reasoning that the dismissal letter could be read as punishment for speaking out—or whistle-blowing.

If legal counsel had had a chance to look at the discharge letter, the wording could have been modified and ARAMARK might not be headed for court. The letter easily could have specified that the firing offense was for failing to report the rodent problem to her supervisor. (Thompson v. ARAMARK School Support Services, No. 05-2676, 6th Cir., 2007)

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