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Discovered unsuspected wrongdoing? Fire away!

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in Firing,HR Management,Human Resources

Sometimes, internal investigations pull back the curtain on performance problems that have nothing to do with the original inquiry. Even if it turns out that the initial reason for the investigation was unfounded, you don’t have to ignore other issues you may uncover.

You can use that information as the basis for termination.

Recent case: Noel was a paralegal for the Ohio Department of Com­­merce. When the information technology department discovered transfers of what it believed were secure and confidential files to Noel, it opened an investigation.

Management concluded that the files in question hadn’t been properly secured and were accessible to all employees, so it decided not to discipline Noel.

But the investigation also turned up other problems. For example, when IT analyzed the websites Noel visited during work hours, it reported that Noel spent considerable time conducting personal business at her desk. Noel was suspended with pay pending further investigation and ordered to remain home in “work ready” ­status.

As the inquiry deepened, Noel was found to have worked unauthorized overtime hours. She was then terminated.

She sued, alleging discrimination. Her argument: She shouldn’t have been fired because the original allegations that prompted the investigation proved wrong—she had not obtained access to secure information.

The court upheld the termination. It reasoned that it didn’t matter if the investigation started with activities that turned out not to violate policies if other rule violations happened to surface. (Williams v. Zurz, No. 10-4161, 6th Cir., 2012)

Final note: Don’t hesitate to discipline employees when you discover obvious rule violations. Ignoring them could just fuel another worker’s lawsuit if you subsequently discipline her for the same conduct. A rule’s a rule and should be enforced consistently, no favoritism allowed.

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