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Worker always complaining? Investigate anyway

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in Firing,HR Management,Human Resources

Some employees gripe all the time. You know them: They’re the ones who regularly appear in your doorway, ready to file yet another complaint with HR about supposed unfair treatment and discrimination. They seem to believe they deserve a perfect work environment in which everything is done the way they prefer.

No matter how groundless, look into their claims. If the complaint ever turns into a lawsuit, investigating will reveal that you have a process in place to address true harassment and discrimination. It may even help you make the case for firing the complainer.

Recent case: Heilia Fairclough, who is over age 60, worked at a Wawa convenience store. She was frequently written up for forgetting to wear gloves when handling food, neglecting to log the temperature in the sandwich station and failing to provide a doctor’s note for absences.

After each write-up, Fairclough would write a letter to the company, complaining about her treatment and insisting that she was being set up for failure by her supervisor. Once, she called her boss “illiterate” because he couldn’t seem to grasp the meaning of one of the letters.

HR launched an investigation into one of Fairclough’s complaints. It became clear that Fairclough couldn’t get along with supervisors or co-workers and was generally disagreeable—and sometimes insubordinate. When Wawa fired her, she sued, alleging age and other forms of discrimination.

But the court dismissed her suit. At the very worst, it said, what Fairclough complained about was simple unfairness. Employees aren’t guaranteed a perfect workplace—just one free from discrimination based on protected status. That just wasn’t the case here. (Fairclough v. Wawa, No. 10-3497, 3rd Cir., 2010)

Final note: Make sure you have a standard, consistent process for conducting investigations. At a minimum, keep clear notes outlining who said what.

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