You’ve told managers before, now tell ’em again: Email may seem like private communication, but it really isn’t. Anything a manager says in an email may become evidence in a lawsuit. And any statement in that email that might be interpreted several ways can take on a life of its own.
Recent case: Kimberly Norman worked for a radio station, selling advertising. She was paid on a commission basis and had set sales targets. She consistently hit those targets and got good reviews.
Norman has a gastric disorder. When her condition worsened, she requestedso she could take time off when she was too ill to make sales calls.
After taking some regular, she returned to the office and was promptly called into a meeting in which her supervisor began criticizing her recent performance. Norman demanded that their discussion be recorded. The meeting was then canceled—and Norman was fired for supposed insubordination.
She sued, alleging retaliation and interference with her right to takeleave.
Norman told the court that she had sensed her supervisor was resentful when she took FMLA time off. During discovery, an email came to light that said Norman was “a weak link.” Norman argued that this was evidence showing the radio station’s premeditated reason for firing her, and that insubordination was just an excuse. The court agreed and ordered a jury trial. (Norman v. Beasley Mezzanine Holdings, ED NC, 2011)
Final note: When it comes to email, limit communication to just the facts. For example, had the email simply listed sales goals missed or other hard facts, it wouldn’t look so inflammatory.
Plus, it’s rarely a good idea to fire someone on seemingly flimsy grounds. Instead, stick with measurable reasons like sales numbers.
- Firing for poor work or rule breaking? Clear business reason will beat lawsuit
- Punish employee if you uncover poor work during FMLA leave
- Employee tried to comply? He may get unemployment
- Employee lied during internal investigation? That's a firing offense you can act on
- Reject accommodation requests that harm business relationships