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Employer’s “Honest Belief” Wins the Day
On September 30, 2013 the Tenth District Court of Appeals, sitting in Franklin County, decided the case of Morrissette v. DFS Services, and in the process, established an important principle that will help employers throughout the state. In this case, Mr. Morrissette was accused by a coworker of racial harassment and other forms of workplace conduct and speech that violated the company’s Code of Conduct set forth in the Employee Handbook. An internal investigation was conducted by the company’s HR Manager, and resulted in Mr. Morrissette’s discharge from employment. Claiming that he had been falsely accused, that the HR Manager was biased against him and that the investigation had come to a wrong conclusion, Morrissette filed a wrongful discharge suit. However, the court threw the case out, noting that even if the accuser had lied, and the employer’s investigation failed to discover the actual truth, Morrissette still lost because the employer held a “honest belief” in the results of the investigation, and this was all that was needed to sustain the company’s action.
This case underscores the importance of timely and complete employer investigations of alleged violations of company policies. Perhaps of even greater importance, however, is its holding that an employer’s honestly held beliefs in the results of that investigation, even if wrong, will defeat a wrongful discharge suit. Although the court did not specifically say so, its holding clearly relied on the fact that the “honest belief” that won the day for this employer came as a result of the company’s HR department being properly trained in how to conduct such an investigation.
Mark your calendars for our upcoming Workers’ Compensation Seminar on March 6, 2014! Don’t miss it!
OSHA Deadline Approaching
Employers have long been aware of the Hazards Communication Standard contained in the OSHA regulations. Approximately 18 months ago, however, OSHA announced it was going to adopt the United Nations’ Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) and began a phased in compliance schedule for all employers. The first of those compliance dates is December 1, 2013, the date by which employers must have trained their employees on at least 2 of the new standard’s requirements: the new labeling elements of GHS, and the format of the new document entitled Safety Data Sheet, a document which replaces the Material Data Safety Sheet of the prior standard.
If you require any assistance in providing this training to your employees, or have any questions concerning the new GHS standard, contact any member of our labor and employment law section.