Some employers have strict rules that prohibit supervisors from getting involved in subordinates’ personal problems—or treating them badly. That’s fine.
Employers are free to set their own supervisory standards, and a subordinate’s behavior doesn’t excuse a supervisor’s out-of-bounds reaction.
Recent case: Charles Male was a grocery store manager. His wife, a former employee, sued the company over its alleged failure to accommodate her disability.
While that case was still pending, the company fired Male. The discharge came after a subordinate complained to HR that Male had told her she was a bad mother because she left her daughter home alone at age 9. Male had also apparently told the woman—who had previously revealed that her husband was a convicted sex offender—that she was crazy for being married to the man.
Then Male got an angry phone call from the subordinate’s husband, telling him to stay away from his wife. Meanwhile, HR asked Male about the incident. When he was less than forthcoming about the conversations, the company fired Male.
He sued, alleging he had really been fired because of his wife’s pending lawsuit.
Male claimed the company had trumped up the charges against him and that he shouldn’t have been punished for commenting to the subordinate when it was she who first revealed her husband’s status.
The court said a subordinate’s actions don’t excuse a supervisor’s reaction. It dismissed Male’s lawsuit. (Male v. Tops Markets, No. 09-CV-6352, WD NY, 2011)