Document exactly why you fired troublemaker

Do you have an employee who is so disruptive that co-workers repeatedly complain? You may have to fire her. Before you do, carefully document how her behavior negatively affects the workplace and what rules she is breaking.

Recent case: Amy, who is white, worked as a nurse for Presbyterian Medical Center in Philadelphia. After the 2008 election, Amy’s father forwarded her an email recounting how one business owner thought Presi­­dent Obama would harm the economy. According to the email, the businessman searched his company’s parking lot for Obama bumper stickers—and then fired the em­­ployees who owned those cars. The email concluded, “These folks wanted change; I gave it to them.”

Amy circulated the email to her co-workers. A black co-worker complained, stating that she felt the email was inappropriate and that Obama was being blamed for the nation’s problems because he is black. Amy was fired for breaking a rule against sending offensive email through the hospital’s email system.

She sued for race discrimination.

Amy argued that she was really fired because her black co-worker attributed racism to all white people. In other words, by stating she believed that the business owner who wrote the email held racist views, Amy’s co-worker was implying that anyone who circulated the email was racist, too. Thus, Amy believed she had been fired because the hospital wrongly believed she was a racist.

The court said that interpretation went too far. Plus, Amy couldn’t counter the allegation she broke the email rules by circulating offensive materials. (DeCarolis v. Presbyterian Medical Center, No. 12-3647, 3rd Cir., 2014)

Final note: You can never predict exactly what an employee will come up with in a lawsuit. But by always documenting a solid business reason for every important decision, you are ready for most contingencies.