Aug 31 2022
Josh Goodbaum: Hi, Amanda!
Amanda DeMatteis: Hi, Josh! What are we going to talk about today?
Goodbaum: I thought we could talk about employee discipline. So, you’re a Connecticut employee, you get some feedback from your boss – maybe it’s just some coaching, maybe it’s a formal written warning, maybe it’s a performance review, maybe it’s a performance improvement plan – and you don’t agree with it. What are your rights under Connecticut law? What do you recommend the Connecticut employee do now?
DeMatteis: Great question! A lot of Connecticut employees don’t know about a state law called the Connecticut Personnel Files Act. And the Connecticut Personnel Files Act does a couple things that are really beneficial to Connecticut employees.
Let’s take your question, which is: “Hey, I got this discipline that I don’t agree with, what do I do?” And the answer is, pursuant to the Connecticut Personnel Files Act, you have the right to submit a response to whatever that discipline is and ask that it be placed in your “personnel file.”
So, let’s just start with some basics, right? Your “personnel file” is a file that your employer keeps. Our statutes say exactly what types of documents belong in personnel files and what type of documents do not. Disciplinary records belong in your personnel file. So if you get a written warning, a performance improvement plan, some kind of coaching, or a verbal warning that is reduced to writing, that document is going to go in your personnel file.
If you don’t agree with it, what you should do is sit down and go through the reasons as to why you disagree with this characterization of your job performance and put it in writing. And specifically ask your employer to include this document – call it a rebuttal – in your personnel file. So if a person is reading the file down the road, they see this disciplinary action, which is one characterization of your performance or your conduct at work, and then they also see the rebuttal, which is a very different characterization of your employment, your discipline, your performance, your conduct, whatever it may be.
Goodbaum: But what if I get fired because I submit this accurate rebuttal about this discipline that I got?
DeMatteis: Really great question, and it happens. Unfortunately, we see it. People would say, “Well, who cares? It’s just a piece of paper in a personnel file.” That’s not actually accurate.
So what can you do as a Connecticut employee?
Well, you have protections again under state law for a claim called wrongful discharge in violation of public policy. The Connecticut Personnel Files Act technically doesn’t allow you to sue your employer because there’s not an independent cause of action in that statute. But our courts found that these rights to which the Connecticut Personnel Files Act entitles employees are important public policies that can be the basis for a lawsuit.
If you are terminated because you exercised your rights under that important public policy, you have a claim against your employer for wrongful discharge or wrongful termination. So if you file a rebuttal, not only are you creating an accurate record of your performance and your employment history with your employer, you’re also protecting yourself under the law.
Some really great protections for Connecticut employees in the Connecticut Personnel Files Act. If you have any questions about this, always talk to an employment lawyer. We’ll be able to walk you through what to do, what not to do, and hopefully try to guide you through what really is a not-so-fun experience at work.
Goodbaum: Great advice. Thanks so much, Amanda.
DeMatteis: Take care!