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Don’t sweat innocent mistakes when deciding on disciplining

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Good news: You don’t have to be perfect when disciplining employees. As long as you can show you acted in good faith, you don’t have to worry that a court will second-guess your disciplinary decisions.

Recent case: Sydney Taylor, who is Asian-American, was fired from her waitressing job when a customer complained that she had wrongly charged a $4.38 tip on a credit card when the customer didn’t want to leave a tip.

Taylor sued for race discrimination, alleging that a white employee was not fired for putting a $2 tip on another customer’s $9 tab when the customer didn’t want to leave a tip.

But the company had documented why it fired Taylor and not the other employee. Apparently the co-worker left a $2 tip off another $9 tab when that customer wanted to leave the tip. In other words, the company said it didn’t fire the co-worker because she made an innocent mistake, while it believed Taylor’s act wasn’t so innocent.

Taylor argued to the court that she might have left the $4.38 tip off another credit card, too. But the court said that even if Taylor could show that she was as innocent as the co-worker, what mattered was that the company believed, at the time of the discipline, that Taylor acted wrongly and the co-worker made an innocent mistake.

As long as the employer really believed that in good faith, it couldn’t be charged with discrimination. The belief may have been incorrect, but that’s not the same as discrimination. (Taylor v. On Tap Unlimited, No. 07-14493, 11th Cir., 2008)

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