It can happen to the best manager or HR professional. You discipline or demote an employee, and then, when she files an internal grievance or asks the company to reconsider, you conclude she shouldn’t have been disciplined or demoted in the first place. What should you do?
The best solution may be to reverse the decision and make the employee “whole” by paying her what she would have earned had she not been disciplined or demoted.
According to a recent 8th Circuit Court of Appeals decision, prompt action to fix a mistake may block a discrimination lawsuit.
Recent case: Jeanette Jackson worked for UPS as a shuttle driver. Because of her seniority, she obtained a higher-paying driving position—and caused an accident on her first day on the job. She was then moved back to her former, lower-paying job and filed a grievance. She also filed an EEOC complaint alleging sex discrimination.
UPS considered her grievance and concluded the accident should not have disqualified her. Within three months, she was reinstated, with full back pay. She lost no other benefits.
Jackson sued anyway, claiming the temporary demotion was an adverse employment action.
The appeals court disagreed, noting that the company acted quickly to fix its error. To punish UPS would discourage other employers from similarly correcting such errors. The court said it encourages employers to use informal internal methods to resolve discrimination charges. (Jackson v. UPS, No. 08-1343, 8th Cir., 2008)
Final note: The court did note that “we do not find that rescinding a prior employment action will always shield an employer from liability,” especially if the employer delays reversing the decision until the employee sues.
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