My Employee Was Arrested – Now What?

My Employee Was Arrested – Now What?

Navigating this delicate situation demands more than a gut reaction; it requires a thoughtful approach, grounded in legal advice and a comprehensive understanding of employee rights. Rushing to judgment without due diligence can lead to expensive legal entanglements.

Here are several key considerations when facing the arrest of an employee:

Adopt a Case-by-Case Approach: Avoid blanket policies that lead to automatic suspension or termination. Each situation is unique and deserves individual assessment. A one-size-fits-all rule is not only ineffective but may also be legally indefensible, particularly when the connection between the arrest and the individual's job responsibilities is tenuous.

Verify the Facts: Before taking any disciplinary action, ensure the accuracy of the arrest report. It's crucial to remember the significant legal distinction between an arrest (a mere allegation) and a conviction (a proven crime). An arrest on its own does not confirm guilt, and acting on this basis alone is fraught with risk. 

Ask Your Employee: There are no federal statutes prohibit inquiring about an employee's arrest, allowing you the opportunity to seek their perspective. Such a conversation can unveil whether the incident was a mere case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time or if it pertains to a more serious matter. It's crucial to amass as much detail as you can regarding the arrest, any forthcoming charges, and the subsequent steps for your employee. Should the individual remain detained, accessing the arrest record becomes necessary. This document is public and can typically be obtained from the local courthouse or police department, providing valuable insights into the situation. Just make sure to check your state’s laws about employers inquiring about arrest records.

Consider the Nature of the Job: The relevance of the arrest to the employee's role within the company is a critical factor. For instance, an office worker's DUI arrest may not impact their job performance, while a bus driver's arrest for the same reason could have serious implications for public safety and justify more severe consequences.

Review Legal Exceptions and Rights: Some jurisdictions explicitly protect employees from being disciplined solely on the basis of an arrest. It's important to be aware of such legal nuances to avoid unlawful termination or suspension.

Evaluate Unrelated Offenses: Occasionally, the circumstances surrounding an arrest, even if unrelated to job duties, can justify disciplinary action. For example, an employee's extended absence due to incarceration for personal matters might warrant a review, provided the policy is applied uniformly to all similar cases of unexcused absences.

Document Thoroughly: Maintaining detailed records of all decisions, rationales, and related communications is essential. Proper documentation supports the transparency and fairness of the disciplinary process and is invaluable in defending any actions taken.

Seek Expert Legal Counsel: Given the complexity of employment law and the potential for costly errors, consulting with an experienced employment attorney is advisable. They can offer tailored advice, ensuring that any actions taken are both legally sound and in the best interest of the company.

Dealing with an employee's arrest is a challenging task that requires balancing legal compliance, ethical considerations, and the interests of the company. By following these guidelines, you can navigate these situations with confidence and integrity, protecting both your employees' rights and your organization's reputation.