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Lessons from the court: job evaluations, break-time pay

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Performance Reviews

Managers can learn a lot from other managers' mistakes. Here are two recent court cases that show how seemingly small errors can come back to hurt the organization:

 

Don't go easy on disabled workers.

At evaluation time, some supervisors wrongly take the easy way out, glossing over an employee's poor performance and refusing to rate anyone below average.

But that kind of vanilla rating system, and inadequate documentation of performance problems, will come back to haunt an organization. That's particularly true in situations in which disabled employees will hold up their review as proof that they're qualified to perform the job.

Case in point: Major depression caused a government attorney's work to deteriorate. Despite these problems, her supervisor continued to rate her " fully successful" on job reviews.

Eventually, she asked for a transfer as an accommodation for her disability. The employer declined, so she sued, alleging disability discrimination. A federal court sided with her, saying she was "disabled" under the law and her "fully successful" job reviews proved that she was qualified to do the job. (Calero-Cerezo v. U.S. Dept. of Justice, et.al., No. 02-2643, 1st Cir., 2004)

The lesson: Don't pull any punches on job reviews. A more honest evaluation could have proved that this employee wasn't able to perform the job's "essential function," meaning she didn't earn protection under federal disability law.

Don't interrupt workers' break time

Break times and meal times for hourly employees should be used for those purposes, not for work. If employees are interrupted too often during their breaks, they must be paid for that break time. Federal law says employees must be "completely relieved of duty" for their breaks to go unpaid.

Case in point: Nurses at an Oklahoma hospital were regularly interrupted during their meal breaks to respond to patient problems and answer phones. The hospital didn't pay the hourly employees for those breaks. The nurses sued, claiming they were owed overtime for those working-during-break hours. A federal appeals court agreed. (Beasley v. Hillcrest Med. Ctr., No. 02-5121, 10th Cir., 2003)

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