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Follow the discipline rules in your handbook to defeat discrimination claims

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Your organization’s employee handbook exists for a reason. It serves as a simple and effective way to let employees know what the rules are and what you expect in the way of behavior.

If you can show that employees received copies of the handbook and were expected to be familiar with its contents, you have a good shot at defeating any discriminatory discharge claims if you disciplined according to the rules set out in the handbook.

Recent case: A general manager at a Florida Sears store was arrested for driving under the influence. She then took 11 weeks’ FMLA leave to undergo alcohol treatment as an inpatient.

When she returned to work, her supervisors confronted her and asked whether she had been arrested. She confessed and was fired because the company handbook clearly stated that employees had five days to report an arrest or conviction.

The woman sued, alleging sex discrimination under Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act and the Florida Civil Rights Act. The court dismissed her case after she could not show that anyone else had been treated more favorably after failing to report an arrest. (Davis-Dietz v. Sears, Roebuck and Co., No. 6:06-CV-1756, MD FL, 2007)

Final note: Employers that serve the public should consider implementing a policy requiring employees to report arrests and convictions. Because certain offenses might signal that employees could endanger customers, employers have good reason to know. For example, a child care worker convicted of rape or child abuse may pose a genuine danger.

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