Disciplining ‘Protected Class’ Employees

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It is important to treat all classes of individuals fairly and ethically, even if that individual is in a “protected class”. There are three steps a company should take with any individual when job performance is suffering.

First, ensure that your discussions and recommendations are strictly relevant to the job performance issues. Do not guess about what could be going on with the employee. Instead, talk with him or her about it.

Second, investigate any reasonable accommodations that may be needed under the Americans with Disabilities Act, if necessary. Sit the employee down to discuss the performance issues. If the employee states that his or her performance could be suffering due to a medical issue, it is your responsibility to investigate to see if reasonable accommodations are required for the employee. In addition, the employee has the right to take time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act or state leave laws.

Third, discuss what the company can do to help the employee to bring his or her performance to acceptable levels. Insome cases, training may be offered to the employee. Create an improvement plan that includes the details of the performance issues, how the employee plans to increase performance, how the company will help in the process, and a specific time frame for the increase in performance to occur. Make sure that the improvement plan includes the consequences if the employee does not improve performance, including demotion or possible termination, depending on the company’s policies.

Have you ever had to deal with disciplining an employee in a ‘protected class’? If so, how did you handle the situation?

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