In Monday’s Ohio Employer’s Law Blog, Jon Hyman discussed the recent Sixth Circuit case of Weimer v. Honda of Amer., where the court upheld the jury’s verdict in favor of the employer. The issue was whether the employer’s termination of the plaintiff violated his rights under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Honda discharged Weimer based on the results of an investigation it conducted to determine whether Weimer’s stated need for FMLA leave was honest, or whether he had lied to get some time off. At trial, the plaintiff presented some evidence that his need for leave had been, in fact, real. No matter, said the court. The issue for the determining liability was whether the employer honestly and reasonably believed that the plaintiff had lied, which would be grounds for termination. Whether or not they were right, in other words, was not determinative.
Mr. Hyman wisely points out that the “takeaway for employers from the Weimer case is to make sure that all reasons in support of a termination are documented.” In addition, an employer who finds itself having to make a termination decision based on disputed facts should conduct a thorough investigation. An investigation worth its salt should include (documented) interviews with all relevant individuals and a review of all relevant documents.
Sometimes, an investigation can be conducted quickly and thoroughly in-house. When emotions run high (as they often do in termination decisions), however, it can be a good idea to bring in an outside resource. Not only to make sure the investigation is conducted properly, but also to take some heat off the employer for the results.
By way of example, Warren & Hays recently conducted an investigation that substantiated some of the alleged wrongdoing. The alleged wrongdoer ended up furious with us — the neutral, third party investigators — but not with the employer. Thus, the employer came out looking like the “good guy” even though it disciplined the employee in question. This made the transition back to business-as-usual mode at work far smoother than it would have been without our involvement.
So keep us in mind not just to conduct thorough and defensible investigations, but also to enhance your employee relations by making you look good!