Many HR professionals spend time agonizing over whether to fire someone they believe broke a rule warranting discharge. Could they have been wrong about the facts?
Relax. There’s no need to second-guess yourself endlessly. Instead, conduct a prompt and thorough investigation and make a decision.
Even if it turns out you were wrong about a fact, chances are a court won’t slam you if it believes you acted honestly and in good faith.
Recent case: Carol, who was in her 60s, worked at a Burlington Coat Factory store. When a security officer saw that Carol was holding clothing for her own purchase in her office, the officer began an investigation. One pair of jeans appeared to be current merchandise, but had a mark-down sticker on the tag. The officer asked Carol whether she had marked down the jeans and Carol said she had not, but had pulled the jeans from a sales floor rack.
The officer then reviewed video, which appeared to show Carol removing jeans from a rack of new merchandise that had just come in and was not yet on the sales floor. She recommended termination and Carol was fired.
Carol sued, alleging age discrimination. She told the court that she had not, in fact, placed the sticker on the jeans and that the charges were trumped up to get rid of an older employee.
The court said she had no case. It didn’t matter who was telling the truth or whether Carol had in fact changed the sticker. What mattered was that the employer reasonably believed she had marked down the jeans after it had investigated and reviewed the video evidence.
The court said its job isn’t to second-guess employers’ reasonable decisions or to rectify possible unfair mistakes. (Corl v. Burlington Coat Factory, No, 1:10-CV-406, MD NC, 2013)
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