Emotional outburst? Respond with patience, calm

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Occasionally, we all have to deal with overly emotional ­employees. Handling them requires a mature and measured response, especially if it looks like you may have to discipline them.

Advice: Take it slowly. Document each outburst or incident. Then rest assured that a court will appreciate your efforts to defuse a difficult situation—and not reward the employee’s behavior with a jury trial.

Recent case: Pamela, a black special education teacher, is from South Africa. Her native language is Zulu.

When some parents complained that Pamela wasn’t preparing their children’s individual education plans (IEPs) on time, a supervisor re­­quested copies of any IEPs and class lesson plans in advance, at least four days before a parent conference or the date when a lesson would be taught.

Pamela complied, sort of. She provided lesson plans in Zulu.

When the supervisor returned them with a note that said “this is gib­ber­ish,” she protested and claimed she always prepared her plans in her native tongue because that was easier for her. She also complained that calling her language “gibberish” was discrimination based on national origin.

Later, when the supervisor ap­proached her in the hallway to discuss an assignment, she ignored him and began singing loudly. To get her attention, he tapped her on her wrist. Pamela then pulled out a tape recorder and started screaming.

On another occasion, Pamela called the supervisor “a bold faced [sic] liar” and asked whether he was sleeping with other teachers in exchange for preferential treatment.

Pamela sued, alleging race and national-origin discrimination, as well as assault.

The court tossed out her case after listening to the school district’s calm recounting of the incidents. (Mnyandu v. Los Angeles Uni­­fied School District, No. B239104, Court of Appeal of California, 2nd Appellate District, 2013)

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