Some workers believe they are golden as soon as they complain about supposedly illegal employer actions. They think that protects them against any discipline. That’s just not true.
You can and should punish any behavior you would have punished if the employee had never complained. That includes terminating an employee for post-complaint insubordination.
Recent case: Katherine worked part time on a commission basis as a telemarketer. At the beginning of a shift, she discovered a payroll error. Her check was short $250 and she didn’t like it.
She complained to her boss, who quickly arranged for a new paycheck that included the missing money.
Still, Katherine immediately emailed the Pennsylvania Department of Labor about the error and then showed her boss the state wage law. She also called another supervisor and left a message complaining about the error and informing her that such payroll mistakes could mean fines.
A co-worker who had been present during Katherine’s conversation with her boss complained to another supervisor that Katherine had been disruptive during the exchange.
Then that supervisor approached Katherine and asked to speak with her. Katherine didn’t like that, either.
She told the supervisor that she had a telephone call to make, announcing, “I’ll eat your ass if you want me to, but I have to make this call first.” Katherine was fired for insubordination.
She sued, alleging she had really been fired for complaining about the payroll error.
The employer argued that the two events—even though they occurred within a short time frame—weren’t related. It said Katherine was fired for insubordination when she refused to meet with the supervisor and for using profane and graphic language.
That was good enough for the court, which ruled the employer had a legitimate, unrelated reason for firing Katherine. (Garges v. The People’s Light & Theater Company, et al., No. 13-1160, 3rd Cir., 2013)
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