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HR Ethics on Trial: Whose Side Are You On?

by on
in HR Soapbox

Even though HR professionals work for management, 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 FMLA compliance. She sometimes advocated for employees who returned from FMLA leave 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)

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

anonymous February 12, 2012 at 2:55 pm

if you were still on probation, usually they can legally terminate you for pretty much any reason …Did you see peer advice from other admins at this link? http://www.businessmanagementdaily.com/30029/i-know-my-firing-was-unfair-but-was-it-unlawful

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Jerrilee Ford February 8, 2012 at 1:07 pm

Can you give me some direction as to where to go to determine if my termination was unlawful or in any way unfair. I was terminated just prior to my probationary period being complete. I have been sent my entire personell file and there are a number of untruths in it. My position was filled by someone who had formerly been in the office and was not happy in the new position they took. I had one self evaluation which was signed and submitted prior to my having a heart catherization and another unsatisfactory evaluation filed after my return to work. I am more interested in how to sue individuals that the hospital itself unless suing the hospital can get me another position at this location, or my original position back. Any directional help you can provide would be appreciated,

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