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Investigations must be thorough, but not bulletproof to justify discipline

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in Firing,HR Management,Human Resources

Here’s some good news for those handling discipline and wondering whether your decision will stand up in court: You don’t always have to be exactly right, just fair and honest.

Recent case: Christopher, a detective with the Burbank Police Department, was fired for allegedly tipping off an informant that she was about to be arrested.

The trouble started when a famous entertainer (the court did not reveal his name) was arrested on drug charges. The entertainer named the informant as his drug dealer. Christopher heard about the arrest and allegedly placed a number of calls to the informant from several different cellphones, letting her know about the arrest and that she might be targeted in a sting.

Indeed, the entertainer was ­en­­­listed to try to make a drug buy, and the informant was arrested and charged with possessing drugs for sale.

Christopher was placed on leave pending an investigation. Once HR believed it had enough information, it fired him.

He sued, alleging that the department had been wrong about some of the details.

The court said that wasn’t enough to support a lawsuit. The fact that the HR investigation might have gotten a few details wrong didn’t prove that the termination decision was wrong.

Employers don’t have to conduct a court-quality investigation. They just have to be fair and act in good faith. (Dunn v. City of Burbank, No. B234462, Court of Appeals, 2nd Appellate District, 2012)

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