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Tread carefully with pregnant underperformer

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in Firing,Human Resources,Maternity Leave Laws

Performance improvement plans (PIPs) can help turn around subpar employees. But if you use PIPs, make sure you implement them equitably. For example, if you place a sales­person on a PIP to raise falling sales, then institute a PIP for everyone whose sales have fallen to the same level.

That’s especially important if one of the employees is about to take FMLA leave or is pregnant. You don’t want to appear as if you have targeted some­one who needs time off, while leaving others alone.

Recent case: Jennifer Constable had little experience when she began working as a salesperson, but she was quickly promoted and dubbed a “rising star.” Then, a few weeks after she informed her boss she was pregnant, he told her that her sales numbers weren’t good enough. She was placed on a PIP with four specific goals, in­cluding bringing her sales numbers up.

Around the same time, a male sales­person with similar sales numbers was also put on a PIP with the same goals. Constable missed her target by $100,000, while the male missed his by much more. When the man kept his job and Constable was terminated, she sued alleging pregnancy discrimination.

The court said she had more than enough evidence to bring the case to trial. The court took note that someone who was once a rising star found herself on a PIP shortly after announcing she was pregnant. It saw that as possible pretext for illegal pregnancy discrimination.

To top the case off, the court also concluded that pregnancy discrimination is illegal under the Florida Civil Rights Act, giving Constable two laws under which to recover damages. (Constable v. Agilysys, No. 8:10-CV-01778, MD FL, 2011)

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