Employee won’t cooperate with investigation? That’s legitimate grounds for discharge

You can reasonably expect em­­ployees to cooperate with internal investigations so you can get all the facts and make well-informed decisions. You can and should discipline workers who won’t assist.

Recent case: Dusty and several other workers at Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport were fired after they refused to cooperate during an investigation. An outside firm was hired to conduct the investigation and the firings were based on that firm’s report about who cooperated and who did not.

At issue was whether another em­­ployee had planted a recording device in the drop ceiling above a room where supervisors met and discussed business. Dusty was the employee who made the original allegation.

Dusty and several others sued. Some claimed they were fired because of race bias. Others said they were being retaliated against for pre­vious discrimination complaints.

None of that mattered to the court, which tossed out the case.

It reasoned that the employer was free to terminate employees who refused to cooperate in an investigation. The fact that an outside firm implicated the employees was evidence the employer had fired them for failing to cooperate and not some other illegal reason. (Beard, et al., v. JBT Aerotech, No. 01-12-00155, Court of Appeals of Texas, 1st District, 2013)

Final note: Some employees claimed they didn’t know about the investigation and that, therefore, the firm was wrong to say they hadn’t cooperated. That didn’t matter, as long as the employer honestly believed the firm.