Sheryl Jean recently reported in the Dallas Morning News on a letter of apology from a Southwest Airlines pilot to company employees for a rant he made with his microphone stuck in the on position that was heard by air traffic controllers and other pilots about how there were not any good dating prospects among the company’s flight attendants. Whether you think Southwest’s attendants are cute, you certainly recognize the problem created by the pilot’s actions. Management at the airline was squarly confronted with the question of whether to fire the pilot. They chose to have the pilot apologize. Perhaps it’s the fact that Southwest has a pilot union factored into the decisionmaking, but a lot of employers would have let the employee go out of fear that female employees would complain of sexual harassment or discrimination.
This situation provides a great opportunity to remind employers that they don’t have to react so harshly to potential discrimination issues. In most circumstances, an employer can counsel the offending employee, correct their behavior, and move on without the need of termination. It is the second instance that carries employers to the brink of termination. Giving a second or third chance to an employee raises substantially the chance that other employees can bring a viable claim for discrimination.