No one likes being treated poorly, and when shabby behavior is coupled with something as traumatic as losing a job, the treatment itself can be enough to start a lawsuit. That’s why it is crucial for supervisors and HR professionals to respect the dignity of each employee about to be discharged, no matter what the reason.
Recent case: Thomas Hause, who worked for The Salvation Army in Los Angeles, took medical leave after suffering a stroke. He became mentally and physically disabled, with substantially restricted walking and lifting abilities.
The Salvation Army assured Hause while he was recuperating that he had a job waiting. It also told him any lingering problems caused by the stroke would be accommodated. But instead, while he was off, the charity changed Hause’s job description to add duties and physical requirements that were not part of the original job. When Hause returned to work, he found he couldn’t do the job and that his accommodation requests fell on deaf ears.
The Salvation Army then discharged Hause. He sued, alleging intentional infliction of emotional distress, claiming The Salvation Army lured him back to work under false pretenses and then callously cast him aside.
The court concluded his allegations merited a trial. It said a jury might find that the employer acted outrageously if what Hause claimed was true. (Hause v. The Salvation Army, No. CV-07-5249, CD CA, 2007)
Final note: The charitable nature of The Salvation Army’s work may have affected the court’s decision. Certainly, a jury may unofficially hold those who “do good” to a higher standard than other employers.