You never know which employee will file a discrimination or harassment lawsuit or when they will do so. That’s why you should assume the worst and prepare for it. Support any adverse job action, such as a demotion or termination, with solid business reasons. Clearly and contemporaneously document your decision to act.
That way, you can come to court prepared to explain exactly why you did what you did and when you did it.
Recent case: Mary went to work for a small tech company that aimed to become a big player on the Web. Unfortunately, the company quickly burned through investor cash, and Mary’s division needed an infusion of millions of dollars to stay afloat. It had earned no profits for months, and the CEO decided it was time to make drastic personnel cuts.
Managers met and discussed which employees to lay off in order to stanch the bleeding. Mary wound up on the chopping block.
Meanwhile, she participated in a videoconference in which a male employee showed a PowerPoint slide that defined spring as “engineering’s menstrual cycle.” He said, “Spring is a 30-day cycle with five days of anger in the middle.” Mary was not amused and said so. She complained to HR, which investigated, had the offending slide removed and deemed the matter closed.
But then Mary was terminated. She sued, arguing she had been fired for complaining about the presentation.
Her lawsuit was tossed out after the company presented documentation showing two things: That the company decided to terminate Mary before the videoconference, and that lack of investor funding was the sole reason for the discharge. (Litchhult v. UStrive2, No. 10-CV-3311, ED NY, 2013)
- How to Fire an Employee the Legal Way: 6 Termination Guidelines
- Firing because you suspect thievery: Better be prepared to prove it
- Equal opportunity discipline: Don't let rogue bosses subvert your anti-harassment policy
- Lawsuit: Lehman bankruptcy stiffed riffed NYC workers
- New risk: Workers can claim retaliation even if there's no adverse job action