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Messed up? Then ‘fess up and fix your mistake

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in Firing,FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Hey, it happens: Sometimes, employers mess up. But they can undo much of the damage by acting fast to fix mistakes.

Take this case, in which a termination letter was sent by mistake while the disciplinary process was still under way. A quick explanation and retraction saved the day.

Recent case: Wanda Dockens worked for a school district as a media specialist. After a decade on the job, she developed an anxiety disorder. At one point, she had an altercation with an assistant superintendent that ended with Dockens being told to get her purse, turn in her keys and “get off this campus.”

Dockens, believing she had been terminated, requested medical leave for her anxiety. Two days later, she was informed that she had not been fired and that her FMLA leave was approved.

What followed over the next few months could be described as a comedy of errors.

Dockens was told she had to take a fitness-for-duty test when she was ready to return to work, and that she should bring in certification from her doctors to show she had a serious health condition. But HR believed the certification documents Dockens provided might have been forged, and emails went flying discussing whether she should be fired.

Before anyone had made a final decision, Dockens received a termination letter. It was rescinded the next day.

Dockens never did return to work and instead sued, alleging wrongful termination. But the court said she had never been terminated and therefore couldn’t sue. (Dockens v. DeKalb County School, No. 11-10234, 11th Cir., 2011)

Final note: Of course, the termination letter should never have been sent. The school district dodged a bullet; the court forgave its error. Best not to have to rely on such generosity.

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