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Before firing, offer second chance to improve

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Firing,Human Resources

Some employees facing criticism will own up to the problem and work to improve. Others simply refuse to recognize that their per­­formance is subpar or contributing to discord in the workplace.

Either way, it’s worth at least ex­­tend­­ing to the employee a chance to improve and keep his job—after you have docu­mented the nature of the problem.

That way, if you decide you have to terminate the employee, it will be harder for him to argue he was singled out because of membership in a protected class while others not in the same class kept their jobs.

Recent case: Arturo Martinez is Hispanic. He worked as a manager for W.W. Grainger in St. Paul and got good reviews. He had a reputation for “running a tight ship.”

All went well until a chance visit by a regional manager, who arrived when Martinez was out. The manager found customers waiting for assistance, but a nearby employee explained he couldn’t help because he wasn’t allowed to clock in early.

The regional manager then began asking employees questions about Martinez’s management style. Sev­­eral volunteered that their boss yelled at them. That prompted an HR investigation. At least four em­­ployees told the HR specialist who investigated about incidents involving yelling, screaming and general harassment.

Martinez was called in to discuss his management style. After listening, he acknowledged that things had to change, but didn’t think he was the problem. He was fired for refusing to take responsibility.

Martinez sued, alleging that non-Hispanic managers with similar subordinate complaints hadn’t been discharged.

But the company successfully showed that those managers agreed to change and succeeded, while Martinez showed no willingness.

That was enough to justify his discharge. (Martinez v. W.W. Grainger, No. 11-1422, 8th Cir., 2011)

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