Lots of discipline takes place out of sight of most employees. Employees may be reprimanded or otherwise punished for inappropriate behavior without co-workers ever finding out. Sometimes, even the employee who raised the original problem—for example, harassment or an inappropriate joke—may not know the outcome.
If that employee later sues, you must be prepared to show how you responded behind the scenes.
Recent case: The Weather Channel fired Elise for. She sued, alleging that she had worked in a racially hostile environment.
But the cable network got the case dismissed when it showed that every incident Elise cited as an example of racial harassment had been dealt with through discipline. The court said the Weather Channel was a vigilant employer and that it didn’t matter that Elise was unaware of its consistent stance on disciplining harassers. (Lawless v. Weather Channel, No. 11-2076, 2nd Cir., 2012)
Advice: Here’s how to track “invisible” discipline. Start by maintaining a master list of all incoming complaints. Follow each complaint through the system, from initial investigation to conclusion. Then go back and note the investigation result and the disciplinary outcome on the master list.
This process makes it easy to pull together statistics if the EEOC asks. It also serves as a road map for your internal processes. Think of it like a police chain of custody. At all times, you should be able to track each complaint’s progress.
- Investigating sexual harassment? Ask victim whether she's told HR everything
- Play it straight: When employee's complaints become irrational, stick with sound procedures
- OK to ban the use of your e-Mail system for union organizing
- Now's the time to evaluate your in-house promotion policy
- Allow accusers to bypass supervisor to file complaints