Q. I recently fired an employee for performance problems. At the end of the termination meeting, he asked for a copy of his personnel file. Do I have to give discharged employees copies of their personnel files?
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It’s natural for supervisors and managers to become upset when employees accuse them of some form of discrimination. Tell them they must resist the impulse to strike back. It inevitably makes the situation worse. Many forms of managerial punishment may end up being construed as retaliation—which can be far easier to prove than the alleged discrimination that started all the trouble.
Employers have faced more retaliation claims ever since the U.S. Supreme Court made such cases easier to win by ruling that retaliation is an action that “might have dissuaded a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination.” While the federal courts have placed some limits on what constitutes a retaliatory act, they continue to struggle with the question.
It’s one of the sad realities of today’s litigious world: Even when you win a lawsuit, you’re seldom able to recoup all your legal fees unless you win big. That’s true even if your opponent is the EEOC and it’s clear it didn’t have much of a case to begin with.
When an employee threatens litigation, take your time building the case against him. Make sure you base your decision on solid facts. Double-check to see that there’s no way the employee can claim you singled him out for unfair or inequitable treatment. Then rest easy, knowing that if you’re sued, you can counter the allegations with facts and get the case dismissed quickly.
In a perfect world, no one would ever utter a slur or make a derogatory comment. But this isn’t a perfect world, and employees come to work with emotional and cultural baggage. It’s up HR to make sure that baggage doesn’t turn into a discrimination lawsuit.
You and the supervisors at your organization have read horror stories of negative performance reviews spawning lawsuits from disgruntled employees. As a result, some supervisors may shy away from rating someone lower than his or her colleagues. That fear is one main reason too many reviews are positive even if performance is average or poor. The better thing to do is to urge your supervisors to “get real” with reviews.
Years ago, a landmark study at General Electric found its performance appraisal counterproductive and ineffective. Praise had no effect on performance, and criticism led to backsliding. What was going on?
An Atlantic City jury has awarded Scott Jones $1.8 million in his suit against his former employer, South Jersey Gas, after the company dismissed him for poor work performance. Jones claimed his poor performance was due to his battle with depression and that the company failed to discuss accommodations of his condition.
One of the most legally dangerous things you can do after you terminate an employee is change the reason for ending the employment relationship. Instead, decide on a defensible rationale at the time of the termination. Document that decision and all the supporting evidence. Then remind execs and supervisors to stay on script.