Sometimes, the wrong messenger delivers bad news. That’s what happens when a poorly performing employee comes forward with a discrimination complaint. If your investigation finds that the complaint has merit, but you decide you need to fire the worker anyway, how should you proceed? Aren’t you just guaranteeing you’ll be hit with a lawsuit?
Perhaps—butwill out. Document the problems and act as you would have if the employee hadn’t complained. At the same time, take care of the discrimination problems your investigation revealed.
Recent case: Tony Hood, who is black, had trouble with his supervisor. He alleged the supervisor treated him poorly and withheld resources so Hood would not succeed. Hood complained of discrimination to other black managers and took the matter to HR. Meanwhile, Hood’s performance was reviewed regularly.
Within a day of getting the complaint, HR started an investigation. They discovered some problems within the organization and recommended changes, including additional training for Hood’s supervisor on how to manage subordinates. But HR also concluded Hood was a poor performer, and that the criticism he was getting had nothing to do with his race.
Hood sued, but the court sided with the company after a careful review of his employment record. Because the company had documented all his deficiencies, the court dismissed his case. (Hood v. Pfizer, No. 04-3836, DC NJ, 2007)
Final note: The moral of the story: Fix the problems you discover, regardless of who brings them to your attention.
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