Can You Fire An Employee For Filing A False Harassment Complaint?

Posted on: 28 October 2022

Discrimination and harassment in the workplace are real problems employees face on a daily basis. Unfortunately, sometimes people make accusations that turn out to be false. Depending on the situation, you may feel justified firing the employee, but here's why that could backfire and cause you even more problems in the future. 

The Law Prohibits Retaliatory Measures

The statute that protects employees from discrimination and harassment includes another restriction: employers can't retaliate against employees for filing complaints, even if the accusations turn out to be untrue. Firing an employee for submitting a false complaint would be considered retaliation and land you in legal hot water if you do it.

It should be noted, though, that the law technically only applies to the protected categories listed in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, such as race, religion, and national origin. For instance, you could be sued for damages if you fire someone who falsely complained of racial harassment, but the case for someone who complained of being discriminated against because they like to watch anime would probably go nowhere.

However, if you're unsure, it's best to consult with a business lawyer about the legality of firing someone before you do it. The attorney can advise you on what the law says about it and help you reach the best decision for the situation.

Other Ways to Deal with the Employee

While you can't fire the employee for filing the complaint, you are still perfectly within your rights to let them go for unrelated reasons. For instance, the employee has a documented history of poor job performance. You can fire the individual, and you'll be protected from a retaliation lawsuit as long as you can show that was the sole reason for the termination.

Another option is to move the person to a different location or position, particularly if the complaint involved other employees. For instance, one worker complains of being harassed by another. Rearranging the staffing so that the two don't come in contact with each other again could be a good solution as long as the complainant doesn't suffer any significant negative impact as a result.

Sometimes getting the employee to voluntarily resign may be the best option. This may involve negotiating a severance package or settlement to entice them to leave the company. You have to be careful, though, as doing this could be misconstrued as an admission of guilt, so be sure to run the idea by your company's lawyer to minimize the risk of this happening.

Handling employees who file false harassment complaints can be challenging but with the guidance of a good lawyer, you should be able to overcome the issue. For assistance with this or other business problems, contact a local business lawyer.