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Train managers to adopt poker face when facing complaint

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Human Resources

It’s getting easier and easier for employees to charge that their employers retaliated against them after they complained about alleged discrimination.

First, the U.S. Supreme Court lowered the threshold standard for an adverse action to any employer action that might dissuade a reasonable employee from reporting discrimination. Then came a rapid flood of cases that found seemingly minor job duty or schedule changes to be retaliation.

Advice: To avoid triggering retaliation lawsuits, train managers and supervisors on how to react to a complaint. First and foremost, explain that all complaints should be received professionally and without any apparent display of disappointment or emotion. Remind them: No comment allowed.

Recent case: Steve Khan worked for HIP Centralized Laboratory Services since 1970. Because of his seniority, Khan was eligible for five weeks of vacation per year.

When Khan requested one week of bereavement leave to attend a funeral, he claims a supervisor said the company didn’t want people with too much vacation because “if your work can be performed during an absence of three weeks or more, you are not needed.”

Khan took this as age discrimination and complained informally about it. That’s when Khan claims the supervisor got angry and said he would get rid of Khan “one way or another.” That comment, since it occurred almost contemporaneously with Khan’s age discrimination complaint, was enough to send the case to trial. The court said a jury should decide “whether Khan was threatened with termination for his informal complaint of age discrimination.” (Khan v. HIP Centralized Laboratory Services, No. CV-03-2411, ED NY, 2007)  

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