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Discipline / Investigations

Office romance: Don’t ban it; manage it


Valentine’s Day may have come and gone, but love might still linger in the air at your workplace. If so, watch out! When office romances sour, scorned lovers often turn to the courts to allege that a former lover was a sexual harasser. Here are three tips to help make sure Cupid’s arrow doesn’t harm your organization.

The key is consistency: Make sure similar infractions are subject to similar punishment


Employees who break rules usually expect to be punished. But they also expect to be treated fairly. Most understand that employers shouldn’t punish one employee more harshly than someone else who committed the same infraction. And if that other employee belongs to a different protected class, savvy employees know that attorneys will be lining up for a chance to file a discrimination lawsuit.

How can I discipline exempt staff for poor work?

Q. After the holidays, our hourly employees returned to pre-holiday productivity. But our exempt employees didn’t. What can I do since their salaries aren’t dependent on how many hours they work?

Log customer complaints to back up discipline


Customers may not always be right, but employers can’t ignore their reasonable and lawful complaints. Remember, you need to document those complaints at the time they happen—especially if it seems like a customer complaint might lead to employee discipline.

Prep for firing with honest investigation


Courts don’t like it when employees are treated unfairly. On the other hand, judges don’t want to serve as HR courts, either. That’s why they generally defer to management decisions that seem fair and honest. Judges prefer it when employers investigate allegations of employee wrongdoing before they fire someone—but they don’t require that the investigation be perfect.

Put a stop to harassment ASAP–fast action now prevents liability even years later

Sexual harassment sometimes grows slowly, starting out fairly innocuously before accelerating to behavior that creates a truly hostile work environment. Courts understand that and have created a specific legal doctrine to help harassed employees—the continuing violation doctrine.

With harassment, punishment should fit crime


Employers sometimes assume they have to harshly punish every incident that violates their sexual harassment policies—which often means termination. That isn’t necessarily so. You can differentiate between various kinds of conduct that fit your definition of harassment, but clearly aren’t equally severe.

Use independent investigation to prove you’re not biased

Employers can sometimes be held liable if they rubber-stamp recommendations that come from supervisors who discriminate. Your best defense is to conduct a truly independent investigation before making disciplinary decisions. That will cut the liability cord.

Feel free to discipline or terminate employees who insist on working unauthorized overtime


Hourly employees generally know that if they work overtime, their employer has to pay them for the extra hours. That’s true, but that doesn’t mean employees can work OT whenever they feel like it. Here’s how to end unauthorized overtime:

When worker may have broken rules, conduct independent investigation to confirm suspicions

The possibility of hidden bias is what makes it so important to never base a termination decision solely on one person’s recommendation. The key is to cut the connection between the supervisor’s attitude and the company’s termination decision.