- After "a rocky probationary period," an employee with the Illinois Department of Transportation was fired for challenging instructions and engaging in unsafe conduct; he did not prove he experienced a racially hostile work environment or retaliation (Smith v. Illinois Department of Transportation, No. 18-2948 (7th Cir. Aug. 21, 2019)).
- In addition to failing to remember information and follow basic instructions, the employee reportedly stopped short in traffic, drove away from a gas pump with the nozzle still inserted in his truck, and almost hit a police trooper's car. He also nearly pinned a supervisor between two vehicles.
- The employee, who is black, complained that he had been subjected to abusive language and racial discrimination. However, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the testimony of two of his witnesses had been properly excluded, and a "smattering of decent reviews doesn't overcome the overwhelming number of documented problems — including serious safety issues — that the Department had with Smith's performance." The 7th Circuit upheld a district court's ruling of summary judgment in favor of the Department.
Even when an employee's performance falls well short of expectations, good documentation is essential in the event of a future legal dispute. Missing documentation is obviously problematic, but so is documentation that appears biased, snarky, vague or legally conclusory.
It's also important to document issues contemporaneously, as they happen. Documentation created well after the fact can sometimes be viewed as merely a self-serving (and possibly inaccurate) paper trail rather than an accurate record of what actually happened.
Additionally, while good onboarding programs are important, offboarding procedures are equally important but often overlooked. This can be a mistake, particularly in the event of contentious separations. The day of an involuntary separation can often be one of the worst days of an employee's life, Empathic Workplace founder Angela Nino, previously told HR Dive.
Nino advises planning for the separation, having the conversation privately, determining whether police or security presence will be necessary and ensuring that the employee can get to his or her vehicle or otherwise make arrangements to get home. Employees treated with respect and dignity are more likely to view your company in a positive light going forward — and are less likely to hold a lasting grudge that could turn into litigation or even violence down the road.