We all make mistakes, especially when acting in haste. Unfortunately, a mistake in the employment law world can mean a long and expensive lawsuit. On the other hand, courts are inclined to forgive employers that genuinely try to make things right.
That’s why employers should fix errors and take real measures to make sure any potential negative effects of a disciplinary action have been removed.
Recent case: Nolan Corpening worked for the U.S. Postal Service. At one point, placed him on emergency off-duty status. He was also suspended twice—once for seven days and once for 14 days.
However, after it had a chance to investigate, the post office quickly determined it shouldn’t have taken any of the disciplinary actions. It completely rescinded the discipline and then removed all references to the incidents from Corpening’s personnel file. In other words, once it discovered the error, it acted fast to correct the mistakes.
Corpening sued anyway, alleging race and disability discrimination.
But the court tossed out his case. It reasoned the post office had done all it could to remedy the situation without court interference. (Corpening v. Potter, No. 3:06-CV-176, WD NC, 2009)
Final note: The most likely times you may make a mistake are during workplace harassment investigations and when you honestly believe an employee may be a danger to himself or others.
For example, if someone charges serious sexual harassment or assault, prudence requires removing the alleged harasser from the workplace before the investigation even begins. Similarly, some health and safety issues might call for sending an employee home first and asking questions later. If the problem turns out to have been unfounded, bring the accused employee back as soon as possible and wipe the slate clean.
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