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Worker wants transfer? Show she requested it

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in Firing,Human Resources

Poor performers facing disciplinary action may despair when they realize they can’t improve fast enough to avoid termination. Often, that’s when they request a transfer to another open position within the organization.

But before you agree to a transfer—especially if it includes a pay cut—be sure to demand the employee’s request in writing and outline exactly why the transfer is being arranged. Otherwise, you may find yourself on the receiving end of a lawsuit—from an employee who now claims the move was really a demotion based on some form of discrimination.

Recent case: Dawn Vermette, who worked for Verizon Wireless, was ex­­­­­pected to hit sales quotas every month. Employees who missed their goals were subject to a progressive discipline program that began with an oral warning and ended with termination.

Vermette got an oral warning, followed by additional steps up the progressive discipline ladder. Meanwhile, HR concluded that everyone disciplined during one month would have that black mark removed because sales that month fell due to circumstances outside employee control. Slates were wiped clean, except Vermette’s. This, HR later claimed, was a simple clerical error.

Right before she would have faced discharge, Vermette complained that she should be one step further back on the disciplinary process. HR agreed and removed one step of discipline. Vermette then requested transfer to another position. But Vermette was no more successful there and was eventually terminated.

That’s when she sued, alleging her transfer had been a demotion in retaliation for complaining about the progressive discipline mixup.

The court dismissed the case after Verizon presented documents showing it was Vermette who initiated the transfer request. (Vermette v. Verizon Wire­­less, No. 09-CV-6085, WD NY, 2011)

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