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Discipline / Investigations

Firing for theft? Well-founded suspicion enough to go on

If you suspect an employee has been stealing, you can and should discipline him. You don’t need absolute and irrefutable proof. It’s enough that you reasonably believed he stole.

Heard sexual harassment complaint is coming? Immediately launch your investigation


When HR receives a complaint about sexual or some other form of harassment, immediately put your investigation machinery in motion. Start gathering information before you even meet with the complaining employee. That way, you can’t be accused of ignoring the problem …

Add credibility to investigation notes by having employees acknowledge their accuracy


If you interview employees during the course of investigating alleged misconduct, make sure to take accurate notes. Then, before concluding the interview, have the employee read and sign the notes, attesting that they accurately reflect what was said. Don’t let the employee put off signing.

Court: Pregnancy plus slipshod discharge investigation doesn’t warrant negligence suit

A federal court has refused to expand the ways an employee can sue for alleged pregnancy discrimination. Had the female plaintiff succeeded, the case might have opened the door to a runaway jury award.

Beware retaliation following internal bias investigation

The 7th Circuit has held that employees who participate in employer internal investigations before administrative charges or lawsuits have been filed are not protected from retaliation. It’s different, however, after such charges have been filed.

Violence flares? You can discipline flexibly

Do you have a zero-tolerance policy for workplace violence? That doesn’t mean you have to fire everyone who violates the letter of the rule. You can use some discretion, as long as you document why.

Detail discipline so you can later explain why punishment was appropriate and fair

A discrimination lawsuit compares what happened to the complaining employee with what happened to others outside his protected class. Details matter. For example, an isolated instance of rude behavior is one thing, but constant rudeness is something else entirely. It can justify different, more severe punishment.

Does an employee have a right to ‘correct’ a discipline report that’s going into her file?


Q. We recently disciplined an employee for repeated insubordination because of her attitude toward her supervisor. We wrote her up and placed a warning report in her file. Now she is protesting the accuracy of the report and demanding the chance to “correct” it. Can we force her to sign our disciplinary report as-is?

Keep detailed, contemporaneous records to show you are vigilant and consistent about discipline

Lots of discipline takes place out of sight of most employees. Employees may be reprimanded or otherwise punished for inappropriate behavior without co-workers ever finding out. Sometimes, even the employee who raised the original problem—for example, harassment or an inappropriate joke—may not know the outcome.

Police called in response to workplace harassment? You must still act to stop future incidents


If a co-worker, supervisor or cus­­tomer sexually assaults an em­ployee and the police are called in, the employer must still take reasonable steps to stop the harassment and prevent another assault. It’s not enough to rely on the police to take care of the problem.