Armstrong & Associates Employment Law Firm

Progressive discipline can be a cover for wrongful terminations

People often have an unrealistically restrictive definition of wrongful termination. They imagine a scenario where a worker walks into human resources or a manager’s office to report sexual harassment and gets fired on the spot.

Even the most difficult manager and incompetent Human Resources professional likely recognize that firing someone in response to a complaint or an attempt to assert a workplace right, like inquiring about unpaid overtime wages, constitutes wrongful termination.

It may be legal to fire someone for just about any reason in Texas, but not because they speak up about discrimination or otherwise utilize their basic workplace rights. When a company decides to terminate a worker for complaining or asserting themselves, the business will frequently utilize progressive discipline to protect itself from the consequences of its actions.

How progressive discipline works

Many companies have a progressive discipline policy in their contract or employee handbook. In some cases, progressive discipline may start with a verbal warning. Frequently, there will be write-ups that require a worker to sign a report authored by their manager or human resources. Each subsequent write-up or disciplinary effort will result in more serious penalties, including an unpaid leave of absence and ultimately termination.

The difference between discipline and punishment

Your employer can discipline you for infractions or take issue with poor performance, but the company can not punish you for asserting your rights. Timing is everything when it comes to wrongful termination claims. Every employer has an interest in managing its employees’ performances and encouraging the best from them.

Disciplinary efforts and mediocre performance reviews can be a way to motivate a worker and get them to comply with company standards. However, if the company only starts taking issue with your job performance or writing you up for infractions after you assert yourself or make a report, then there is a good chance that those disciplinary efforts or poor performance reviews reflect an intention to retaliate against you rather than an honest evaluation of your work performance.

If you suspect that your employer has started to build a case against you to justify terminating you, you may want to start building your own case as well. Documenting the issue from your end will put you in a position to take action quickly after experiencing a wrongful termination.


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