Use independent investigation to back up decision to terminate rule-breakers

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Sometimes, it pays to be patient. That’s often true when deciding who to terminate when several people are allegedly involved in rule breaking. Conduct an independent investigation, talk to all the individuals involved and come to conclusions based on what the employees said. That way, there’s a good chance a court won’t second-guess your final decision.

Recent case: Theresa and several other mid-level managers were told that they could not use a particular employee on a project. He ended up doing work on it anyway.

Because HR believed the managers ignored a direct order, it conducted an investigation. Several of the managers pointed the finger at Theresa, alleging they all talked together about placing the employee on the project. Theresa alone denied the discussions took place, even when presented with cellphone records. She was fired, but her male co-workers were not.

She sued, alleging discrimination.

But it was clear that the company fired Theresa because it believed she lied during the investigation and that the male employees kept their jobs because they didn’t lie. Theresa’s case was dismissed. (Taddeo v. L.M. Barry, 08-CV-6109, WD NY, 2013)

Final note: Courts don’t expect employers to always be right, just honest. Nor do your decisions always have to be perfect. They can be wrong-headed as long as they are arrived at honestly. Conducting an independent investigation and interviewing all persons involved is an excellent way to demonstrate your honesty and good faith.

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