HR professionals spend lots of time training managers on the laws protecting employees in the workplace.
Sometimes they even go to bat for employees when they think the company may be overstepping legal boundaries or generally not doing “the right thing.”
But those activities aren’t necessarily protected, meaning HR pros can’t claim retaliation if they are punished afterward.
Recent case: Mary Trapani was hired by a trucking company as vice president of organizational development. In that job, she handled many HR functions, including advising the company on complying with theand other laws.
During her time with the company, she sometimes advocated for employees who returned fromonly to discover that their jobs had been changed to part-time positions. She almost always managed to reverse those decisions and get the employees reinstated.
But then the company’s business deteriorated and it ended up in bankruptcy court.
To cut costs, it eliminated many positions, including Trapani’s. She sued, alleging that she was terminated in retaliation for engaging in protected activity.
The court rejected her claim. It reasoned that helping employees secure their rights was consistent with Trapani’s job description and not protected activity. Therefore, even if Trapani could prove the company fired her to get back at her, that wouldn’t be illegal retaliation.
The court said that the only way her actions might be protected would be if she actually took a position contrary to the company’s interests, such as testifying for an employee at trial. (Trapani v. Greatwide Logistics Services, No. 10-334, ED PA, 2011)