If Your Employee Does This … You Might Be Getting Sued

“If you’ve ever had to remove a toothpick for wedding pictures, you might be a redneck.” 

-Jeff Foxworthy

jeff-foxworthy-2__large

Remember Comedian Jeff Foxworthy’s “you might be a redneck” jokes?   They were tell-tale signs of human behavior that revealed a person was a classless and/or clueless hick. They were funny because you either knew someone who acted like the character in the joke, or could easily see someone behaving that way.

But, my human resources (“HR”) and management friends, did you know that there are also tell-tale signs of employee behavior that reveal that your company will likely be sued?

So without further ado (and with apologies to Mr. Foxworthy), put your hands together and give a warm HR welcome to this Edition of  “You Might Be a Redneck Getting Sued”:

1. If your employee submits a 4 page, single-spaced typed rebuttal to a verbal warning, you might be getting sued.

(And if your dog and your wallet are both on a chain, you might be a redneck)*

2.  If your employee urgently demands a copy of his personnel file and says he needs to take the afternoon off for “personal business,” you might be getting sued.

(And if you’ve ever financed a tattoo, you might be a redneck)

3.  If your employee attempts to tape record her performance review, you might be getting sued.

(And if you have the local taxidermist’s number on speed dial, you might be a redneck)

4.  If your employee recites the requirements of an employment law statute better than your HR Department can, you might be getting sued.

(And if you’ve been on TV more than 3 times describing the sound of a tornado, you might be a redneck)

5.  If your 70 year old employee (with 35 years of service) that you just terminated has a personnel file thinner than a potato chip, you might be getting sued.

(And if you think the French Riviera is foreign car, you might be a redneck)

6.  If your employee walks around with a bulging notebook documenting every conversation she has had with co-workers and supervisors, you might be getting sued.

(And if you’ve ever mowed your lawn and found a car, you might be a redneck)  

7.  If your employee goes on an epic Facebook rant that his supervisor is treating him “unfairly,”  you might be getting sued.

(And, finally, if your idea of a “7-course meal” is a bucket of KFC and a six-pack, you might be a redneck)

Ba dom bomp!  Thank you! Don’t forget to tip your waiters and waitresses. I will be here all week…

Of course, getting sued by an employee is no laughing matter. Watch for the above warnings signs.  If you observe any of them, make sure that you have a sound business reason (backed up by sufficient documentation) before taking any disciplinary action against the employee.  Otherwise, the joke will be on you.

*All jokes courtesy of Mr. Foxworthy

Mitchell W. Quick, Attorney/Partner
Michael Best & Friedrich LLP
Suite 3300
100 E. Wisconsin Avenue
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53202
414.225.2755 (direct)
414.277.0656 (fax)
mwquick@michaelbest.com
http://www.linkedin.com/in/mitchquick
Twitter: @HRGeniusBar
              @wagelaws 

 

 

 

EEOC Expands Reach of Pregnancy Discrimination Act

stork-and-baby

On July 14, 2014 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) issued its first “enforcement guidance” on the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”) since 1983.  One of the more significant aspects of the Guidance is the EEOC’s view of an employer’s duty to accommodate pregnant workers under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The EEOC now takes the position that employers must accommodate a pregnant employee’s work restrictions to the same extent it accommodates non-pregnant employees with similar restrictions.

This means, in the EEOC’s view, that employers who offer light duty work to individuals injured on the job must also offer light duty work to pregnant employees with work restrictions, regardless of the fact that the light duty policy only applies, by its terms, to those employees who have restrictions stemming from a work related injury.

The EEOC’s Enforcement Guidance is quite extensive.  The entire Guidance document can be found here:

http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/pregnancy_guidance.cfm .

The EEOC also issued a “Questions & Answers” document, found here:

http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/pregnancy_qa.cfm .

As if that wasn’t enough summer reading, the EEOC also issued a “Fact Sheet” that summarizes the PDA’s requirements at:

http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/pregnancy_factsheet.cfm .

Mitchell W. Quick, Attorney/Partner
Michael Best & Friedrich LLP
Suite 3300
100 E. Wisconsin Avenue
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53202
414.225.2755 (direct)
414.277.0656 (fax)
mwquick@michaelbest.com
http://www.linkedin.com/in/mitchquick
Twitter: @HRGeniusBar
@wagelaws

Four Things To Expect During An EEOC On-Site Visit

“Guests, like fish,  begin to smell after three days old.”

- Benjamin Franklin 

You know the drill.  An employee or ex-employee files a discrimination charge against your company with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”).  You file a position statement denying the allegations and then wait.  You hear nothing and hope that no news is good news.  But, as they say, hope is not a strategy.

Instead, you are introduced to the EEOC’s new, more aggressive investigation strategy.  No longer willing to accept a company’s written response at face value, the EEOC now frequently demands on-site visits to interview witnesses and gather information.

As one can imagine, these on-site fishing expeditions visits offer little “upside” to the company.  To avoid floundering like a fish out of water, one needs to be prepared.  Here are just a few things you can expect to see and hear during an EEOC on-site visit:

1. The Tour.  The EEOC Investigator almost always requests to take a tour of the facility before conducting witness interviews.  Knowing this, the company should make sure there are no potential OSHA violations that could be spotted.  In addition, confirm the location(s) where the company posts the required federal labor and employment law posters, and double-check to make sure all of them are  actually posted; the Investigator will want to verify this.  Finally, have someone who is familiar with the facility and articulate but not verbose lead the tour.

2.  Probing the Company’s Story.  Recall that the EEOC Investigator typically comes on-site after the company has filed its position statement.  The Investigator will question witnesses to see if their recollections match the facts the company presented in its position statement.  Thus, every potential management witness should read the Discrimination Charge and the company’s position statement at least a couple of times before the on-site in order to [re-]familiarize themselves with the facts of the case.

3. Questions about Employment Law Knowledge & Training. EEOC Investigators will interview Human Resources (“HR”) personnel who are involved in the case.  Investigators often ask HR representatives: (1) about their general knowledge of employment laws; (2)  whether they have a college degree in the HR field; (3) whether they have recently attended HR seminars or conferences; and (4) what training they have provided to company employees on topics such as discrimination and harassment.  As “ignorance of the law is no excuse,” it is important that the HR representative comes across as knowledgeable of the anti-discrimination laws and the employer’s obligations thereunder.

4.  Selective Note Taking.  Watching the EEOC Investigator take notes of witness interviews will test one’s patience, as it often seems that the only statements being written down are those not helpful to your case.  All of the good points your witness is making are seemingly ignored.  If you observe this occurring, you or your counsel may need to re-emphasize key points to the Investigator to give him or her the “equal opportunity” to write them down.  You do not want the Investigator leaving with a distorted record of the facts.

Ultimately, your goal is to have your “uninvited guest” finish his/her visit and leave that same day.  Anything longer would really stink.

Mitchell W. Quick, Attorney/Partner
Michael Best & Friedrich LLP
Suite 3300
100 E. Wisconsin Avenue
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53202
414.225.2755 (direct)
414.277.0656 (fax)
mwquick@michaelbest.com
http://www.linkedin.com/in/mitchquick
 Twitter: @HRGeniusBar@wagelaws

Wisconsin Modifies Wage Law’s Recordkeeping Requirements

Wisconsin employers recently received some good news from the Legislature: effective April 17, 2014 employers are no longer required to keep payroll records tracking the “hours worked” of their salaried employees who are “exempt” from Wisconsin’s overtime compensation laws.  This change brings Wisconsin’s payroll recordkeeping requirements in line with those of the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). Wisconsin companies no longer have to keep precise daily or weekly time records for their salaried exempt professional, executive (i.e. managerial and supervisory), administrative, and computer professional employees.  See Wis. Stats. §104.09.

Employers who previously struggled complying with Wisconsin’s recordkeeping obligations will obviously welcome the lowered administrative burden. But this lower burden may come at a higher price – what if an employee files an overtime pay claim in court or at the Department of Labor (“DOL”) alleging that the employer “misclassified” him/her as overtime exempt?

Often in these cases an employee claims to have worked substantial amounts of overtime hours each week, and offers as “evidence”: (1) a self-serving log or spreadsheet showing a huge number of overtime hours worked; and/or (2) self-serving testimony that he/she worked all hours of the day and night, including weekends. Employers who do not have time cards to refute the claimed amount of overtime hours worked are then forced to rely on anecdotal evidence such as: (1) observations of when the employee “typically” arrived at and/or left work; or (2)  the employee’s computer “log on” and “log off” times.  The DOL or jury then decides how many overtime hours the employee worked each week.

Given this risk, employers would be well served to re-examine whether the employees they classify as “salaried exempt” truly satisfy all of an applicable exemption’s requirements.

Mitchell W. Quick, Attorney/Partner
Michael Best & Friedrich LLP
Suite 3300
100 E. Wisconsin Avenue
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53202
414.225.2755 (direct)
414.277.0656 (fax)
mwquick@michaelbest.com
http://www.linkedin.com/in/mitchquick
 Twitter: @HRGeniusBar
 @wagelaws

 

3 AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT MYTHS

adasigning2

Although the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) was enacted in 1990,  employers and employees still hold certain misconceptions about the law and its requirements.  Here are three common myths surrounding the ADA:

MYTH #1 - The company can condition an employee’s return to work on the employee providing a “full medical release” without restrictions.

REALITY:  The company can require a medical release before an employee can return from a medical leave.  But, it cannot demand that the release be “restriction free.”  Rather, if the employee presents  restrictions with the release, the company must determine if it is able to provide a reasonable accommodation to the employee to enable the employee to perform the job’s “essential functions.”

MYTH #2 - If an employee’s disability is controlled by medication(s), the employee is not disabled.

REALITY:  The amendments to the ADA make clear that an employer cannot take into account the mitigating effects of medication or equipment on the employee’s medical condition in assessing whether the employee has a disability.  The employee can still be considered disabled even if the medication or device adequately controls the employee’s symptoms.

MYTH #3 - A company can enforce a leave of absence policy that provides an employee will be terminated if unable to return from a medical leave after a specific number of weeks or months.

REALITY:  Although a “leave of absence” can be a reasonable accommodation, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) takes the position that an employer cannot “automatically” terminate an employee if the employee is unable to return to work after a specific period of time (e.g. 6 months or a year).  Rather, the EEOC views such “blanket” policies as violating the ADA’s requirement that the employer treat each accommodation situation on an individual basis.  Instead, the employer would have to establish that no other reasonable accommodation exists before terminating the employee.

 

Mitchell W. Quick, Attorney/Partner
Michael Best & Friedrich LLP
Suite 3300
100 E. Wisconsin Avenue
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53202
414.225.2755 (direct)
414.277.0656 (fax)
mwquick@michaelbest.com
http://www.linkedin.com/in/mitchquick
Twitter: @HRGeniusBar
@wagelaws

 

 

Sue Early And Sue Often

“You got to know when to hold ‘em. Know when to fold ‘em.
Know when to walk away. Know when to run.”

Kenny Rogers, “The Gambler”

As certain as death and taxes, each day in this great country someone, somewhere is filing a head scratchingly stupid lawsuit.  “Sue early and sue often” seems to be the mantra in our litigious society. The latest example comes from Sin City, where a gambler is suing a casino to recover his massive gambling losses. 

The gambler’s argument?  He was too drunk to know what he was doing.  As Dr. Seuss might say, he drank in the limo on the way to the casino, he drank playing Keno*, he drank at dinner, he drank hoping to be a winner, he drank at the gaming table, he drank because he was able.

The gambler admits he was drunk for almost 3 days straight, and lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in his “blackout” state.  Now he wants his money back.  His theory?  The Las Vegas casino kept providing him “free” drinks and loans to gamble with when they knew he was blitzed.  In other words, he was the sloppy drunk overserved victim.

Personal responsibility?  That’s for losers, man!  Bad choices?  Give me a break (and a refund)!

So listen to Kenny Rogers - the man is a Grammy winning singer/songwriter, actor, roasted chicken magnate, and suspected plastic surgery aficionado after all.  Don’t gamble that your company won’t get sued.  You will, and often for ridiculous reasons.  (Remember the $2.9 Million Dollar McDonald’s lawsuit over spilled coffee?  Coffee is hot?  Who knew?)

Increase the odds of your company winning an employment lawsuit  by following sound human resources practices.  First, don’t hire losers.  Review employment applications carefully, contact employment references, and do background checks.  Second, administer clear written policies in a non-discriminatory manner. Third, document all significant personnel decisions.  Fourth, honestly communicate the reasons for termination.  And finally, don’t drink on the job.

Mitchell W. Quick, Attorney/Partner
Michael Best & Friedrich LLP
Suite 3300
100 E. Wisconsin Avenue
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53202
414.225.2755 (direct)
414.277.0656 (fax)
mwquick@michaelbest.com
http://www.linkedin.com/in/mitchquick
Twitter
: @HRGeniusBar
@wagelaws

*Not sure if he played Keno, but it rhymes.

Texas-Sized Employment Terminations Via Twitter

Human Resources Managers know the drill when they want to terminate an employee.  They bring the individual into a private room, tell him he is terminated, cite a couple of reasons for the termination decision, maybe give him a termination letter, and escort him out of the workplace.  Thereafter, the termination decision and reasons for it are typically only shared with those in management with a legitimate “need to know.”

But as they say, “everything is bigger in Texas,” including apparently, the way one announces an employee’s termination.  And in “BIg D” they have taken it to a new gunslinging level.

Dallas, Texas Police Chief  David O. Brown routinely announces the terminations of his law enforcement officers via his Twitter account, @DPDChief, to his 7,000 plus “followers.”  Limited by Twitter’s 140 characters, he then posts lengthier explanations for the termination on  Facebook for several thousand “friends.”

One recent example:

“I have terminated ######### for public intoxication, damaging a person’s property, and making offensive contact with a person.”

(I omitted the name – blame the lawyer in me).

Part of me likes the boldness of the strategy, and the stated goals of ensuring government accountability and transparency.  It also sends a strong message to other employees not to engage in the same conduct.  And the Dallas Police Department is doing some very creative things utilizing social media as a law enforcement strategy to catch bad guys.

But is it a sound personnel practice?  Let’s see…

Humiliating the employee to thousands of strangers?  Check.  Inviting a potential defamation lawsuit?  Check.  Locking in the employer’s position in future litigation in 140 characters or less?  Check.  Giving the City’s lawyers nightmares?  Check.  (Of course, many people would say giving lawyers nightmares is not necessarily a bad thing).

I would assume the Chief vets his Twitter posts with his legal counsel before their mass distribution.   But as anyone who uses Twitter knows, typos occur, mistakes can be made, and words can be misinterpreted.  And in employment lawsuits, words matter.

Chief Brown found out the dangers of Twitter recently:

Chief David O. Brown ‏@DPDChief  Mar 11

Today I terminated Officer Edgar Garcia for being involved in a disturbance resulting in his arrest for assault Family Violence.

Chief David O. Brown ‏@DPDChief  Mar 11

Correction: the officer terminated was Officer Edgar Garcia Martinez  

I hope the Police Department doesn’t employ an “Officer Edgar Garcia.”

From a purely legal perspective, the risks of such a practice seem to greatly outweigh any potential benefits.  Many times I have defended employers in lawsuits where it was clear the employee pursued litigation simply because he/she felt “humiliated” in how the termination was handled.  The employee was angry, feeling either the termination meeting was unduly harsh, or embarrassed by being escorted off the premises in full view of co-workers.

Now imagine the employee’s motivation to sue after having his termination and the reasons for it publicly aired to thousands of people.  Oh, and the employer still needs that little thing called “evidence” to back up the assertions in the tweet.

As any cowboy will tell you, “when you mess with the bull, you sometimes get the horns.”  Save yourself a legal goring – don’t post terminations or the reasons for them on social media sites.

Mitchell W. Quick, Attorney/Partner
Michael Best & Friedrich LLP
Suite 3300
100 E. Wisconsin Avenue
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53202
414.225.2755 (direct)
414.277.0656 (fax)
mwquick@michaelbest.com
http://www.linkedin.com/in/mitchquick
Twitter
:  @HRGeniusBar
@wagelaws