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Top brass not listening? Scare ‘em straight with true stories

by on
in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Firing,HR Management,Human Resources

Issue: Many CEOs take a head-in-the-sand approach to employment-law threats.

Risk: The top brass may tune you out if you simply tell them, "We must do this."

Action: Use storytelling to prompt your execs to listen and respond to your training and compliance requests.

Which of these two statements would make your CEO sit up and take notice: 

  • "We should improve our anti-harassment training because the Labor Department says it's a good idea." 
  • "We should improve our anti-harassment training because Joe's Pizza across town just had to pay a $1 million jury award because of its faulty policy." 

The answer is obvious. The second approach works better because it attaches a human face and real-life consequence to your request. The same holds true in HR training: Employees will learn more by hearing real-life examples and engaging in role-playing than they would reading a dry, legalistic policy.

"Nobody learned anything by being told, 'You gotta do this and you gotta do that,'" says Douglas Mishkin, employment law attorney at Patton Boggs in Washington, D.C. "The important concepts we need to teach all can be told through stories."

That's why HR professionals should keep a repertoire of short stories that they can trot out to prompt a CEO to action, urge managers to rethink a planned firing, etc.

Such real-life examples can be found each month in this newsletter. Here are two recent stories cited by Mishkin:

1. The sleeping employee. (Don't make rash firing decisions.) When a warehouse manager found an employee sleeping under a table with a pillow and blanket, the manager slapped a Post-It note on his head that read "YOU'RE FIRED." The employee sued for wrongful discharge, telling an arbitrator that he was knocked unconscious and the pillow and blanket had been "left there."

Remarkably, the arbitrator sided with the employee and put him back on the job. Reason: The arbitrator was offended by the "manner of termination."

The lesson: Don't make rash firing decisions. Before taking action, at least let employees tell their side of the story and investigate their claims.

2. 'A' lesson in retaliation. When a fast-food company realized someone was stealing, the manager said he'd fire one person per day, starting with the letter A, until somebody confessed. So Donna Abel got fired first.

She sued for intentional infliction of emotional distress and won big. (She doesn't need to flip burgers anymore...)

The lesson: Wrongdoing must be investigated. Managers should never take action against an entire group because of one employee's wrongdoing. They shouldn't set out to "make an example" of a certain employee; that will only lead to a discrimination claim.

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