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Firing: You don’t have to be right, just honest

by on
in Firing,Human Resources

Employees don’t always see eye to eye on discipline, performance appraisals or other workplace issues. They may claim they didn’t really break that rule. They may try to argue that their latest evaluation was full of errors.

But as long as you reasonably be­­lieve that your discipline was appropriate or your evaluation was on the money, you have little to fear. Simply put, the employee doesn’t get to second-guess your reasons.

Recent case: Tamsin was discharged from her supervisory job. Before the final termination decision, she had been placed on probation for six months, after colleagues complained about her to supervisors. At the time, she had a chance to respond to the complaints, as well as about a poor evaluation. Her explanations, however, didn’t sway the employer.

Tamsin sued, alleging age and sex discrimination.

But all she could argue was that her employer had been wrong and that her colleagues’ complaints weren’t valid. That wasn’t enough. Her employer believed it was placing her on probation for a legitimate business reason.

The court said it was entitled to that belief. Otherwise, courts would end up as an extension of a company’s HR office. Her lawsuit was dismissed. (Wolfe v. Time Warner, No. 12-4226, 2nd Cir., 2013)

Final note: Too many HR professionals and managers agonize over their disciplinary decisions. Don’t think you have to provide the equivalent of a trial before acting.

The employers that get in trouble are those that try to cover up discrimination with a flimsy excuse for discipline. Typically, they hastily and selectively begin enforcing long-ignored rules against perceived “troublemakers” or someone who has just filed an EEOC complaint. Another frequent scenario: The employer doesn’t believe the employee did anything wrong, but just wants to get rid of her.

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