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Before firing, investigate discharge recommendation

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in Firing,Human Resources

If you rely on a boss to make a firing recommendation and don’t independently investigate, you risk terminating someone because of the supervisor’s hidden bias. That can mean a large jury award. At least give the employee a chance to tell his side of the story.

Recent case: Kirk told authorities that he suspected there was a forged document in his department. Soon after, his supervisor began sending reports to HR that Kirk wasn’t doing his job. Then the supervisor recommended firing Kirk because he engaged in horseplay.

Kirk sued, alleging that he had been fired for whistle-blowing. A jury agreed, awarding him $200,000. The employer appealed, arguing it didn’t know about Kirk’s whistle-blowing. But the court said Kirk’s boss did know, and his apparent desire to punish Kirk was attributable to the company because it didn’t independently investigate the underlying reasons for discharge. (Ludlow v. BNSF, No. 14-2486, 8th Cir.)

Final note: When it comes to discipline, never rely solely on a supervisor’s recommendation, especially  if termination could result. Always double-check the facts. That’s especially true if you know that the employee recommended for termination has filed a complaint against the company. The same rule applies even if you don’t know. Ignorance is no defense against allegations of a supervisor’s bias.

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