Real HR Solutions

We’ll feature real life HR situations, such as addressing employee relations issues, disciplinary issues, hiring guidelines, and more! If you have an HR situation you need help with or that you would like to share, please send it to us (see Contact Us tab) and we will either give you our advice on how we’ve handled similar situations or share your story with other HR professionals who could benefit from this information in the future.

Who won this case: Fired after refusing to sign discipline doc – was it age bias?

An over-50 employee refuses to sign a document saying she made a mistake that cost the company money. After she’s fired, she sues for age bias. Did she win?

Read the dramatized version of this real-life case and see if you can determine the outcome.

 

The scene

“Phil, what’s this mess we’ve gotten into with Sarah Fordham?” asked VP Bill Kurolsky over the phone. “I don’t have to tell you how costly a lawsuit could be. What’s going on over there?”

HR manager Phil Walker sighed. “We have a supervisor who may not be, shall we say, ‘progressive’ when it comes to women,” Phil explained.

“Sarah came to us with complaints that he was being inappropriate and making her uncomfortable,” he said.

“So you were all over him, right?” Bill asked. “You know better than anyone how important a fast response is.”

“Right,” said Phil, “and we saw a fast improvement. We gave him a verbal and written warning, and we met with Sarah a few weeks later and she thanked us for intervening. She even sent us a follow-up email saying the situation was much better.”

“But then she took a leave of absence a month later?” Bill asked.

“Yes, apparently things fell apart somewhere,” said Phil. “I never heard anything more about it, so I thought everything was fine.

“Then Sarah claimed her work environment was worse than ever and that she had to quit her job.”

Sarah brought a hostile work environment and gender bias claim against her employer.

Did the company win?

 

The decision

No, the company lost its bid to have the case dismissed.

The court said the staff member presented enough evidence that the decision to fire her could have been based on her age.

The company argued Betsy technically never suffered an adverse employment action because she left voluntarily. And with no adverse action, there could be no bias.

In the firm’s view, not signing the disciplinary letter was the same as voluntarily abandoning her job.

But the court found that logic pretty slim.

The court pointed to evidence like the fact that two younger staffers weren’t disciplined for similar mistakes as evidence that age bias may have existed.

 

Analysis: Don’t paint them into a corner

This case is a clear example of why managers and supervisors should avoid creating  ultimatum-style situations that essentially paint an employee into a corner.

Here, the court ruled the employee never really had a viable option — she thought she’d be fired if she signed the document, and the company threatened to fire her if she didn’t. Thus, the court said, she wasn’t in a position to do  anything “voluntarily” – including abandoning her job.

Better solution: Add a “refused to sign” line that both you and your manager can initial in cases like this.

 Cite: Apau v. Printpack, Inc.

(This post is shared from HRMorning.com )

Situation:

An employee complains that she’s being sexually harassed by her boss. HR jumps into action, the supervisor is disciplined and warned, and, after a short time, the victim tells HR things have greatly improved. But just weeks later, the employee resigns, charging that the supervisor’s gone back to his old ways. She sues for harassment. Did she win?

Read the dramatized version of this real-life case and see if you can determine the outcome.

 

The scene

“Phil, what’s this mess we’ve gotten into with Sarah Fordham?” asked VP Bill Kurolsky over the phone. “I don’t have to tell you how costly a lawsuit could be. What’s going on over there?”

HR manager Phil Walker sighed. “We have a supervisor who may not be, shall we say, ‘progressive’ when it comes to women,” Phil explained.

“Sarah came to us with complaints that he was being inappropriate and making her uncomfortable,” he said.

“So you were all over him, right?” Bill asked. “You know better than anyone how important a fast response is.”

“Right,” said Phil, “and we saw a fast improvement. We gave him a verbal and written warning, and we met with Sarah a few weeks later and she thanked us for intervening. She even sent us a follow-up email saying the situation was much better.”

“But then she took a leave of absence a month later?” Bill asked.

“Yes, apparently things fell apart somewhere,” said Phil. “I never heard anything more about it, so I thought everything was fine.

“Then Sarah claimed her work environment was worse than ever and that she had to quit her job.”

Sarah brought a hostile work environment and gender bias claim against her employer.

Did the company win?

 

The decision

No, the company lost. The court ruled that the HR department’s actions didn’t shield the employer from Sarah’s lawsuit.

The reason: HR didn’t do enough.

The judge acknowledged that the company acted quickly when Sarah expressed concern over the supervisor’s behavior. Officials even went so far as to issue both a verbal and written warning.

But then they dropped the ball.

Once HR heard the situation was better, it failed to follow up to make sure the manager didn’t slip back into his old behaviors – which, in this case, he did.

For that reason, the judge held the employer responsible for the hostile workplace that ultimately led Sarah to resign.

 

Solution:

One-and-done not enough

Even if your company responds quickly and appropriately to an employee’s accusations of harassment, you could still be on the hook for not going far enough.

If individual department supervisors field a complaint, remind them of the importance of repeated follow-up, even if they’ve been told the matter’s resolved. And, as always, keep a written record of any follow-up as well.

Cite: Aponte-Rivera v. DHL Solutions (U.S.A)

(This post is shared from HRMorning.com )

Situation:

If someone’s out on short-term disability, does the time count against his or her FMLA leave allotment?

 

Solution:

If a short-term disability is caused by a serious health condition as defined by FMLA, the two forms of leave can run concurrently, says employment attorney Lawrence Peikes.

 

For example:

If an employee is out for more than three days and receives two or more doctor’s treatments during that period, or a chronic condition exists, you can count that period as both short-term disability and FMLA leave. The situations meet the criteria for both. (This post is shared from HRMorning.com )

Situation:

We’ve had several thefts at our workplace and we want to install video cameras. Can we run into legal risks by doing so?

 

Solution:

You should be on solid ground – as long as you don’t install them in areas where employees have an expectation of privacy, says Martha Arias of Internet Business Law Services. State laws vary, but employers are typically allowed to place cameras throughout the workplace for security reasons and to prevent internal theft. Most states agree there’s no expectation of privacy at the workplace, so use of these cameras would be within the law – as long as firms keep them out of places like restrooms and changing areas. (The above post is shared from HRMorning.com )

Situation:

An applicant arrives late for their interview. Should you still meet with them?

 

Solution:

The first thing to keep in mind is that this is the time they should be on their very best behavior. If they are late for the interview, does that mean they will be late to work? Why were they late? If the applicant is just a few minutes late with what appears to be a sincere valid excuse, interview them. Sometimes things do happen. However, if they are going to be more than ten minutes delayed, a phone call should be expected. If they are late, do not apologize for their tardiness or offer a reason, ask. If their attitude displays a lack of concern, either keep the interview short or cancel at that time. Is that the type of attitude to bring into your company? Probably not.

Situation:

An employee is placed on a written warning. He does not agree with the warning and refuses to sign the acknowledgement. What do you do?

 

Solution:

Some employees mistakenly believe that refusal to sign a warning (or a negative evaluation) makes the warning invalid. Depending on your company culture and the situations, there are a few different approaches you could take on this issue.

If the employee’s objections are not warranted, explain that although he refuses to sign, the decision is final and he is expected to improve in the areas discussed, or further disciplinary action will be taken.

If the employee still refuses to sign, you could have him write on the warning “I do not agree with this warning” then sign his name. It would also be beneficial to have a witness in the meeting, either another HR professional, your supervisor, etc. In either situation, you would have proof that the warning and need for improvement have been discussed with him. Document the meeting in the employee’s file.

Finally, your company may consider his refusal to sign the warning insubordination, which could be grounds for termination, depending on your disciplinary guidelines.

Situation:

A terminated employee makes a threat against his manager. What precautions, if any, should you take?

 

Solution:

Threats should always be taken seriously. In the situation above, the company should alert the local police. The employer may consider hiring a security guard for a period of time or ask the police to patrol the area. The manager should be advised to take extra caution when arriving to and leaving work. He or she should never leave alone or enter the building if someone suspicious is outside the building. The company receptionist and / or other employees should be instructed to call 911 if the former employee shows up at the premises. (Since not all employees may recognize the former employee, distribute a picture and vehicle information, if available.)

If the employer does not act, and the threat is carried out, the company could be held liable for not taking action. If your company doesn’t already have a policy about workplace violence, work with an attorney to craft one. Ensure that your employees are aware of the policy and the consequences of not adhering to it.

With unemployment rates remaining high, most companies have an abundance of employment applications. While sorting through those applications, keep in mind these potential red flags.

1. Spelling and Neatness (or lack of)

The application is the candidate’s first impression. Whether your application is on-line or paper form, the applicant should be neat. With spell check and dictionaries widely available, there is no excuse for misspelled words.

2. Gaps in employment history

Pay close attention to dates of previous employment and ask the candidate to explain any “gaps” in employment history. The gap, when explained may be as simple as going to school full time or a story you need to know before making a hiring decision.

3. Short tenure

The best indicator of future behavior is past behavior. Be cautious of hiring a candidate who only spent a few months with previous jobs unless they give you really good reasons for doing so.

4. Vague dates of employment

Some applicants will list that they worked for each employer from this year to this year. In order to get a true and accurate previous work history, it is suggested that you verify specific dates of employment for each previous employer with the applicant before making a hiring decision.

5. Reasons for leaving previous employer

When reviewing why candidates leave their previous employers, you should see clear, logical reasons for doing so. Watch for red flags such as, couldn’t get along with supervisor, couldn’t work position hours, negative comments listed about previous manager or company, terminated, etc. All of these reasons are red flags and would require further conversation with the applicant. Remember, it’s just as important to match the right person to the job, as it is to match the right job to the right person.

6. Not completing required areas of the application

Review the entire application. Make sure the candidate has signed or checked the required areas, such as stating that all information is correct and accurate, giving permission to required checks for your company (background, drug, credit, etc.), verifying that he/she is eligible to legally work in the United States and of the necessary age to do so, and any other release or documentation required to work at your company.

7. Conclusion

These are just a few of the red flags you might encounter on an application and could be an indicator that the candidate in question may not be the best employee for your company. Although some may seem minor, taking the time to review and ask for explanations could save you time and remorse in the future! Good luck with your employee search!

Situation:

You have received several complaints about an employee’s body odor. How do you address this?

 

Solution:

First of all, make sure that the complaints are genuine. If you concur that there is, in fact a body odor issue, a discussion needs to be had with the employee. As difficult as the conversation may be, the supervisor who works most closely with the employee or HR should address the issue with the employee, sooner rather than later. The conversation should be a face-to-face conversation that is sensitive, yet direct. Start with positive comments about the employee’s performance (as long as the performance is positive). Inform the employee that there has been noticeable body odor recently. Offer suggestions for improvement such as, trying a different soap or deodorant, showering more often, washing clothes more often, and paying attention to certain foods that may cause the body odor to worsen. There are some prescription deodorants that may be helpful. Document the conversation and plan a follow up meeting in 1-2 weeks to discuss the progress with the employee.

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