In the new Louisville Business First Legal Forum Column, BGD attorney Philip C. Eschels discussed what businesses should know about videotaped evidence and discharging employees. Read his advice below and don’t miss our monthly Legal Forum Column in Louisville Business First!
I believe my employee has been “caught red-handed” breaking a company rule on videotape; what should I know before discharging them?
In a recent case, an employer was not able to avoid trial despite having a videotape of an employee tending to his side business on a day he had reported he was taking intermittent leave. In the subsequent lawsuit, the Company argued it should win without a trial (receive summary judgment) because it had an “honest belief” that the employee had engaged in fraud and dishonesty, which was a legitimate, non-discriminatory and nonretaliatory reason for discharging him. However, the employee successfully argued that the Company had to conduct a more thorough investigation in order to establish its “honest belief.” The Court found that the limited and focused nature of the employer’s investigation– relying solely on the video – was not sufficient to avoid a trial, and denied summary judgment.
Although it may appear that an employee has been “caught red-handed,” the prudent employer investigates the surrounding circumstances before discharging an employee. Even when there is “solid” evidence equivalent to a video, an investigation should, when possible, include conducting interviews, taking informal statements, scrutinizing applicable records and giving the employee an opportunity to submit additional relevant information.
In short, taking the time to fully understand (and document) the facts and circumstances before implementing disciplinary actions will help reduce potential liability in discharge situations.