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Close supervision could result in constructive discharge claim

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

It’s only natural for managers to monitor the performance of an employee following a leave of absence to ensure that the employee falls smoothly back into the swing of things. There is a fine line, however, between monitoring performance and intensely scrutinizing it. If a manager crosses that line and the employee quits because of it, your organization could be on the hook for constructive discharge. Here’s how.

Intolerable working conditions?

A supervisor suggested to a salesperson that she take time off under the FMLA to work through personal issues. She initially refused, but caved under the supervisor’s pressure.

When she returned to work two weeks later, the supervisor and the district manager kept close tabs on her performance. The employee alleged that they met frequently with her to discuss her performance, required her to meet 100% of all sales quotas, and required her to sign a written commitment promising to win specific accounts. The meetings interfered with her ability to do her job because they took place during selling hours. Her requests for assistance went unanswered, as were the questions she asked during sales meetings. Her supervisor told her that he would rather help salespeople who wanted to be successful.

She complained to her supervisor, and later HR, that she felt singled out because other employees with similar numbers were not subjected to the same scrutiny. Her complaints were not investigated, and her transfer request was denied. The district manager told her that transfers were only available to “successful” employees.

Forced to quit?

The employee quit and headed to court, accusing the company of retaliating against her for taking FMLA leave. An appeals court ruled that it was possible a jury could find that a reasonable person could have found the employee’s working conditions so intolerable she was forced to quit because she:

  1. believed her job was in jeopardy;
  2. was repeatedly told that her performance was unacceptable;
  3. wasn’t provided support to perform her job when she requested it;
  4. was held to higher standards than her co-workers; and
  5. was ignored when she attempted to improve her situation by filing an internal complaint and asked for a transfer. (Strickland v. United Parcel Service, Inc.)

 

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