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Track whom you discipline to avoid litigation

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in Firing,HR Management,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Employees who are fired after breaking work rules often allege that they were targeted because of some protected characteristic like gender, age, race or ethnicity. Even if management had legitimate reasons for the firings, they figure they might be able to make discrimination claims if they can show that others who don’t belong to their protected classes got away with the same offense or worse.

The best way to counter such claims is to know beforehand whether your organization is being tougher—even inadvertently—on some employees who belong to a protected class while letting others slide.

Do that by making someone in HR responsible for tracking discipline across protected classifications. If they spot a suspicious pattern, look into it and fix it—before an employee sues. If there’s no pattern of bias, rest assured you can build a solid defense to the claim.

Recent case: J.B. Hunt Transport fired MarioVasquez, who is Hispanic, after he allegedly used inappropriate language around managers and customers. A company policy specified that it was a dischargeable offense.

Vasquez sued, alleging he had been singled out because he is Hispanic. But he couldn’t point to a single other person—Hispanic or not—who hadn’t been fired for uttering similarly offensive language around managers and customers. The case was dismissed. (Vasquez v. J.B. Hunt Transport, No. 07-5615, DC NJ, 2008)

Final note:
Make someone responsible for regularly analyzing your disciplinary decisions. Have them categorize them by offense, punishment, frequency and other relevant factors. Then compare the number of Hispanics, whites, blacks, women and people with other protected classifications who committed the same or similar acts. If the punishments differed, find out why. Then document those differences. Plus, train managers and supervisors on equal treatment in all aspects of employment.

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