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Paper trail of minor infractions can backfire

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Supervisors often react poorly when employees unjustly accuse them of discrimination.

That’s especially true if an em­­ployee has filed many EEOC complaints over the years. Each one has to be investigated and defended. That costs time, money and energy.

No wonder many bosses succumb to the temptation to build a disciplinary case against the employee by citing a long list of minor rule violations. But that can be dangerous, especially if the same violations don’t trigger the same scrutiny for other employees.

Reason: If the employee is eventually terminated, he or she may have a retaliation case.

Recent case: Fun worked for the U.S. Postal Service for over 20 years, first as a mail handler and later as a mail carrier.

He didn’t report any workplace problems until after his last transfer. He claimed he was discriminated against and harassed almost incessantly. He filed a series of EEOC complaints, each of which was eventually dismissed.

Finally, he was fired after his supervisors began disciplining him for a long list of workplace rules violations. The last straw was when Fun left a mail bag unattended for 10 minutes while he used the bathroom.

Fun sued, alleging retaliation for filing the previous EEOC complaints.

He pointed to eight other em­­ployees who violated some of the same rules Fun broke; they were not terminated. That was enough for the court to order a retaliation trial. (Chan v. Donahoe, No. 13-CV-2599, ED NY, 2014)

Final note: Remind supervisors that they must not punish em­­ployees who file EEOC or other workplace complaints. Then review any requested discipline before it’s implemented. Compare discipline for the same or similar violations. If others haven’t been punished as severely, reconsider.

If you do go ahead, make sure you justify why discipline is right for this employee but not the others.

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