Create–and enforce–policy requiring honesty

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in Firing,Human Resources

Employers want honest ­employees who don’t lie, cheat or steal. To encourage honesty, be sure your company has a policy requiring honesty. That way, it’s easy to terminate someone you believe has acted dishonorably.

Recent case: Amber worked for a company that serves people with mental health problems. The em­­ployer has an ethics policy that lists integrity as a core value. It requires employees to attest that they “will not exploit the trust of the public or my co-workers.” Adherence to the ethics policy is a component of each employee’s performance appraisal.

When hired, Amber asked about domestic-partner insurance coverage. She was handed an application to fill out. It explained that same-sex domestic partners were eligible for benefits like health insurance coverage. Amber added her live-in boyfriend and filled out the form indicating they were domestic partners.

Later, when she was about to take FMLA leave to give birth, someone noticed that her domestic partner was a man. Amber denied lying when she filled out the form but was nonetheless fired for breaking the honesty policy.

She sued, alleging interference with her right to FMLA leave.

The employer argued that no one could misunderstand the instructions that came with the domestic-partnership enrollment forms; therefore it had a legitimate right to fire Amber for dishonesty.

The court agreed and also stated that it didn’t matter if Amber believed she hadn’t lied. The employer had investigated the matter in good faith and concluded Amber lied. That was sufficient.

Amber also argued she was discriminated against based on her heterosexual, single status. The court rejected that claim, too. (Hanson v. Mental Health Resources, No. 12-540, DC MN, 2013)

Final note: On Aug. 1, Min­nesota becomes one of 13 states in which same-sex marriage is legal.

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