• The HR Specialist - Print Newsletter
  • HR Specialist: Employment Law
  • The HR LAW Weekly
  • The HR Weekly

Discipline / Investigations

Employee refuses to follow instructions? Courts won’t second-guess disciplinary decisions

Courts don’t want to second-guess every employment decision. They leave it up to employers to determine, for example, whether one rule violation is more serious than another. As the following case shows, employers are free to terminate employees who won’t listen.

Stay out of court with consistent discipline

Employers that punish some em­­ployees more leniently than others for breaking the same rule are asking for trouble. That’s especially true when a lesser offense seems to have warranted especially harsh punishment.

It’s OK to discipline employees for stonewalling HR investigations


Sexual harassment allegations often come down to he said/she said arguments. Without hearing from both sides, there’s no way to determine what happened. If one of the employees involved in the allegations won’t talk, you can discipline him for refusing to co­­operate and the courts will back you up.

Red-handed? What to do when you suspect employee is a thief


Few HR dilemmas are as sticky as dealing with an employee accused of stealing from the company. Here’s how to handle the situation with care, making sure your organization doesn’t overstep its bounds and expose itself to liability.

Be prepared to answer the question: Are you biased, or is employee overly sensitive?

Every once in a while, you’ll run across an employee who is hyper­­sensitive to any criticism. She may even attribute it to bias against a protected status, and may file an EEOC complaint. Rest assured that if you investigated and took her complaint seriously, the EEOC complaint will likely be dismissed.

Always investigate discrimination complaints to ferret out boss bias, prevent retaliation

Ignoring a discrimination complaint can set in motion an un­­stop­­pable litigation train wreck. That’s especially true if you fail to in­­vestigate a boss who ends up retaliating against the complaining employee.

Questioning employees? Avoid ‘imprisonment’ charge by ensuring they know they may leave

It may sound silly, but there’s a very practical reason to be careful when questioning employees during an investigation: Some especially sensitive people may feel they are being held involuntarily—and sue for false imprisonment.

Make termination decisions stick by documenting discipline at the time it occurs


If you want a termination decision to stand up in court, make sure you carefully document all discipline that occurred before the firing—and do so at the time the discipline occurs. Otherwise, chances are a court or jury may assume the earlier incidents didn’t happen.

Ready to fire worker with poor attitude? Document examples before you deliver pink slip


If a supervisor believes an employee has such a negative attitude that it warrants firing, do your HR duty! Immediately ask for documentation of the problem. It can’t wait until after the termination occurs. After-the-fact, subjective assessments may not survive a court challenge.

Politics around the watercooler: Can you discipline ‘overly political’ workers?


While today’s Iowa caucuses feel like the end of a long campaign season, it’s really just the beginning of a heated political year … one that could spill over into your workplace. Follow these tips for handling political activity in your workplace and employees’ political advocacy outside of work.