Even when an employee has been performing poorly for some time, it’s tempting to cite just the latest problem as the reason for termination. But that may not always be a good idea, especially if you have a long list of problems from which to choose.
If you list just one firing offense, you run the risk that the employee might prove the discharge reason you used is false. That could give her a chance to take her case to a jury—and juries are notoriously pro-employee and unpredictable.
Recent case: Johnnie Mae Robinson, who is black and over age 40, was fired from her job as a certified nursing assistant for allegedly . Her discharge letter specified that she was terminated for not pulling medical charts the way job rules demanded. The letter said, “At 2:30, the charts had not been pulled [and] no records had been requested from the hospital.”
Robinson claimed she had been fired because of her race and age. She also told the court that her supervisor was a “liar” who had taken the charts Robinson said she had already pulled and had hidden them so she could fire Robinson.
Robinson apparently was a difficult employee to manage. The supervisor that Robinson said was a liar had been hired to streamline operations and came up with a new set of rules and procedures, which Robinson often ignored. After a string of verbal and written warnings, she was fired. Then she sued.
The court said a jury should have a chance to decide the case because Robinson’s account—if true—could mean the supervisor set her up by taking the files and then firing her for not pulling them. It pointed out that the only reason listed on the discharge notice was the file problem.
That brought the case down to one question: Who’s lying—Robinson or the supervisor? (Robinson v. Presbyterian Wound Care Center, No. 3:07-CV-00021, WD NC, 2008)
- Is an employee's refusal to cooperate with an internal investigation a firing offense?
- Wrongful termination scores $329,000 for Sonoma State coach
- Be prepared to justify newcomer's higher pay
- Craft 'last-chance' agreements with on-the-ropes workers
- 'At-will' clause doesn't turn contractor into employee