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Discipline / Investigations

Could lax discipline trigger public outcry?

What should you do when an employee with no prior disciplinary problems is caught behaving in ways most of the public would consider unacceptable? You might be tempted to go easy on the employee. But that could backfire if word gets out and the public wants to know why the employee wasn’t fired.

Investigations: Interview all bystanders

Courts will generally honor employer decisions that seem to have been made in good faith. That includes decisions concerning who was telling the truth about a workplace incident.

Investigate harassment no matter who is implicated

The EEOC does not tolerate employers that ignore sexual harassment by senior leaders. You must immediately investigate such allegations, employing neutral outside investigators if possible.

Investigate suspected FMLA intermittent leave abuse

Dishonest employees often abuse their right to take intermittent FMLA leave. Fortunately, courts grant employers broad leeway to investigate suspicious absences.

Outsource probe into high-level harassment

HR pros face a quandary when an organization’s owner, CEO or other senior executive is accused of harassment. Either investigate and risk losing your job, or bury the complaint and lose your integrity. The solution: Engage an outsider such as an attorney to investigate the allegations and determine how to address them.

Don’t suggest retirement in lieu of discipline

Take care when disciplining older workers. You could be falsely accused of age discrimination if you end up firing the employee. Even a well-intentioned suggestion that the employee may want to retire rather than face termination can be a huge mistake.

OK to penalize fighting, even if provoked

Will Smith’s Oscar night slap upside Chris Rock’s head may have only bruised celebrity egos, but it shined a spotlight on the importance of preventing physical conflict in professional settings. For employers, that usually means enforcing a strict policy that prohibits all physical violence.

Offer paid suspension while you investigate allegations

When employees are accused of serious misconduct, consider suspending them with pay. It’s a way to keep alleged bad actors from doing further damage while discouraging them from suing for discrimination and retaliation.

HR pros gain broad Title VII protection

A recent federal appeals court decision may be good news for HR pros and bad news for employers that think they can get away with retaliation if they try to quash discrimination investigations.

Track, date all steps in disciplinary process

When employees figure out they are about to get in trouble at work, expect a flurry of complaints and requests for job-protected leave. These desperate measures are based on the belief that employers can’t fire anyone who has a pending discrimination or harassment case, or who is out on some form of medical leave. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t impose discipline for actions unrelated to an employee’s protected status.