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Warn managers: When attitude’s the problem, document

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in Leaders & Managers,Management Training,Office Management,Records Retention

Every now and then, you hire a dud. Someone who looks like he has the skills you need comes with an attitude, too. And the employees he’s supposed to inspire and lead wind up rebelling. You know it’s time to cut him.

Before you do, start documenting the problems. Be specific. Nebulous complaints about “bad attitude” and “poor ability to get along with subordinates” can look like empty excuses to discriminate if the manager belongs to a protected class (e.g., race, sex, national origin). Then get written statements for the personnel file and base your decision on those. Otherwise, if he sues, you will have to drag many witnesses into court to testify, which can be a risky, time-consuming and expensive proposition.

Recent case: Sarmad Abdulnour, who was born in Iraq and holds dual Iraqi and Canadian citizenship, was hired by Campbell’s Soup to work at an Ohio facility. His job was to supervise about 30 employees.

Within weeks, Abdulnour’s supervisor later testified, complaints began to roll in from his new subordinates. Apparently, Abdulnour had a poor attitude toward women, who claimed he “demeaned” them.

The company terminated him after six months on the job, citing that he wasn’t “working out” due to “management style or personality.”

Then an operations manager added this ill-chosen comment: The “people of Northwest Ohio have a problem with you.”

Abdulnour sued, alleging national-origin discrimination. Campbell’s had to drag the complaining employees into court to testify. Even so, the court was skeptical since no one documented Abdulnour’s problems as they were happening.

Fortunately for Campbell’s Soup, Abdulnour couldn’t point to any specific instances when anyone at the company made specific anti-Iraqi comments directed at him that couldn’t be explained away, such as general lunchtime discussions about the Iraq War. The court dismissed the case. (Abdulnour v. Campbell Soup Supply Company, No. 06-4590, 6th Cir., 2007)

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