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Boss has ‘history’? Investigate independently

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Firing,Human Resources

When you have to investigate allegations that may lead to termination, it’s a good practice to conduct that investigation as independently as possible.

That often means you will have to leave out of the picture any supervisors who have a negative history with the employee. You don’t want their possible bias, anger or low opinion of the employee to influence the decision. That’s especially important if the supervisor has been the subject of a complaint by the employee.

Recent case: Mohammed Hussein, a Muslim, worked for many years in a Catholic hospital’s radiology department. When he had a chance to go on a religious pilgrimage to Mecca, he was initially denied vacation time because he hadn’t made the request early enough; another radiology employee had already scheduled a vacation at the same time.

The next year, Hussein again requested time off for a pilgrimage, but apparently sent his request to the wrong office. When that request was denied, he went outside the chain of command to complain about what he perceived as religious discrimination. His supervisor was angry, but Hussein was able to make the trip.

A year or so later, Hussein was investigated for allegedly not notifying a doctor about a missing radiological scan and for putting another technician’s initials on one he had performed. The hospital investigated, bypassing the supervisor entirely so she had no input into either the investigation or the decision. Hussein was then fired for misconduct.

He sued, alleging discrimination and retaliation. He said he was fired because his supervisor was still angry about the leave he took to go to Mecca.

The court didn’t buy it, noting that the investigation was legitimately independent, because the supervisor didn’t take part. It tossed out Hussein’s case. (Hussein v. UPMC Hospital, No. 11-1286, 3rd Cir., 2012)

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