Track HR decisions to show discipline wasn’t harassment

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in Employment Law,Firing,HR Management,Human Resources

We’ve said it many times, but it bears repeating: The best way to prevent lawsuits or to get a quick dismissal of unfounded charges is to document every employment decision carefully. You and your staff should be able to show exactly when a decision was made, who made it and what the basis for the decision was.

Use a time stamp for documents, date all memos and make sure you can retrieve e-mails and other electronic missives. You should be able to quickly and easily put your fingers on any aspect of an employee’s disciplinary history.

Recent case: John Swanson was hired by Northwestern Human Services and had to serve a probationary period. Before probation ended, Swanson’s supervisor asked HR to extend the length of the trial period.

Swanson complained to HR that he was being harassed by his supervisor and filed an EEOC complaint. He also asked HR to remove a written disciplinary note and action plan his boss had placed in his file. HR refused and Swanson quit, claiming constructive discharge. He then sued for retaliation.

Northwestern was able to show the court the date on which it made each decision. In fact, the original action plan was implemented two days before Swanson cried harassment, and the probation extension—which was based on the action plan—came two days after Swanson filed the EEOC complaint.

The court said that was too early for the company to have known about the EEOC complaint. Plus, it determined Swanson had no justification for walking out. (Swanson v. Northwestern Human Services, No. 06-4923, 3rd Cir., 2008) 

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