Even though HR professionals work for, they often view themselves as unofficial “ombudsmen” for rank-and-file workers.
Sometimes, HR pros go to bat for employees when they think the company is overstepping its legal boundaries or generally not doing “the right thing” for the worker.
But what happens when HR sticks out its neck and, in turn, gets it chopped off? Can HR professionals claim illegal retaliation if they’re fired for speaking out in support of an employee?
A new court ruling shows that those activities aren’t necessarily “protected” under federal anti-retaliation laws, meaning HR pros can’t claim retaliation if they’re punished afterward.
The case: Mary Trapani handled HR functions for a Pennsylvania trucking company, including advising the company on. She sometimes advocated for employees who returned from to discover they’ve been move to part-time status.
During a RIF, the company eliminated Trapani’s job. She sued, alleging her termination was retaliation for engaging in protected activity—namely, advocating for employees. The court rejected her claim. It said helping employees secure their rights was part of Trapani’s job description and not protected activity.
As the ruling said, “Other courts have concluded that HR professionals do not engage in protected activity unless they step out of their HR role and engage in activity that is adverse to their employer,” such as testifying for an employee at trial. (Trapani v. Greatwide Logistics Services, No. 10-334, ED PA, 2011)
- Job discrimination in 2013: Fewer complaints to EEOC, but for bigger bucks
- Does Super Bowl Hangover = Legit FMLA Leave?
- The NLRB Wants to Rewrite Your Email Policy ... and Your Whole Employee Handbook
- It's Official ... Your Job is Getting Harder
- Creative Candidates: 10 Memorable Stunts That Worked ... and 10 That Didn't