If every decision you made on the job when disciplining employees had to be based on absolute truth, the workplace would be paralyzed. So it should come as some comfort to know that courts don’t require you to be 100% correct as long as you act in good faith and base your decision on a reasonable investigation.
Recent case: Alfred Robinson, who is black, applied for a promotion. He didn’t get promoted, but three white employees did. Shortly thereafter, some of Robinson’s equipment was damaged. The HR department spoke with other employees, who claimed that Robinson had done the damage himself.
The company demoted him for violating its policy against damaging equipment. It did not take similar action against several other employees who also ended up with damaged equipment—but investigations showed that, in each of those cases, the damage had been accidental.
Robinson sued, alleging his demotion was retaliation for complaining about the lost promotion.
But the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. It looked at the employer’s investigation and concluded the company had investigated in good faith before reaching its conclusion. The court ruled that it was immaterial that the conclusion might be wrong. What mattered was that the decision was made in good faith and was based on a reasonable investigation. The Circuit Court tossed out the case. (Robinson v. LaFarge North America, No. 06-1500, 11th Cir., 2007)
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