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Discipline / Investigations

Unsubstantiated rumors don’t add up to liability

Public employers aren’t necessarily liable if they fail to respond to vague rumors about employee misconduct, as the following case shows.

Prison time for contractor who didn’t report shakedown

Michael T. Murray, owner of Three R Construction Co. in Cincinnati, has pleaded guilty to bribery and failing to report that a U.S. Postal Service official was demanding payment in return for awarding construction contracts. Murray faces up to three years in prison plus $250,000 in fines.

Keep careful records so you can show why you punished similar behavior differently


Employers sometimes think that if they have a broad workplace rule in place, they have to punish everyone who breaks that rule exactly the same way. That’s not necessarily true. The key is to make sure you can document why one employee deserved a more severe punishment than another. Two cases illustrate how to go about individualizing punishment:

The absent-minded employee: How to get absenteeism under control … legally

The costs of employee absenteeism—reflected in lost production, overtime and temporary replacements for the absent worker—can add up quickly. The best way to combat the problem is with a clear policy, careful documentation, consistent application of the policy and progressive discipline.

Loose lips sink employers: How a manager’s convenience store visit cost $100,000


Employment law risks don’t disappear the minute your managers leave the building at the day’s end. Those risks follow managers around constantly. That’s why you should make clear to supervisors that they should never discuss personnel matters outside the workplace—even at the corner Kwik-E-Mart.

Disciplinary mistake? Set it right–pronto!


We all make mistakes, especially when acting in haste. Unfortunately, a mistake in the employment law world can mean an expensive lawsuit. But courts are inclined to forgive employers that genuinely try to make things right. That’s why employers should fix errors and make sure they remove any potential negative effects of disciplinary actions.

Policy alone isn’t enough: Take the next steps to stamp out harassment


Sexual harassment cases aren’t going away. Employers that don’t take such harassment seriously put their companies in peril. It isn’t enough to come up with a policy. You must also train employees at every level about that policy and explain where harassment victims can go for help. Then you have to follow through and promptly investigate harassment claims. Finally, you must make sure your response is good enough to end the harassment.

No employee ‘right’ to affair with subordinate

The U.S. Constitution guarantees citizens the right to free association without government interference. Courts have used that right to strike down laws that prevent members of different ethnic backgrounds from marrying each other. But what about the right of public employees to free association? Can a public employer punish an employee for having a romantic relationship with a subordinate? That was the question recently answered by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Keep good disciplinary records, win lawsuits


You know how important it is to consistently apply disciplinary rules and ensure no form of bias creeps into the disciplinary process. That’s one reason it’s crucial for HR to keep disciplinary records on file. If employees allege that you disciplined them in a discriminatory way, you’ll be able to show no one was treated more favorably than anyone else.

What is legal discipline for unauthorized overtime?

Q. I know I can’t refuse to pay an hourly employee who works overtime even though I never authorized it. What I don’t understand is what kind of discipline should I implement? Can I, for example, deny a cost-of-living increase?