Remind managers: No comments on workers hiring lawyers — Business Management Daily: Free Reports on Human Resources, Employment Law, Office Management, Office Communication, Office Technology and Small Business Tax Business Management Daily

Under no circumstances should supervisors discourage employees from voicing concerns. Nor should they get angry or defensive if an employee hires an attorney.

It’s not personal—and reacting as if it is can spell trouble. Instead, everyone must remain professional. Remember, the attorney probably told the employee to track company reaction and to report back on any possible retaliation.

Recent case: Gaytri Kalia frequently worked overtime and got good reviews until she became pregnant. During her first pregnancy, which ended in a miscarriage, she claimed that her supervisor immediately began to find fault with her work. She then became pregnant again shortly after returning to work.

This time, the supervisor continued to find fault with just about everything Kalia did. She also told Kalia that her attendance was not up to snuff and that morning sickness was a “personal problem.”

Kalia contacted an attorney, who wrote management a letter complaining about possible pregnancy discrimination. Another supervisor told Kalia that she “should have better things to spend her money on than an attorney.”

Then, after writing Kalia up for mistakes that apparently were rarely punished when other employees committed the same errors, the supervisor recommended Kalia’s discharge. The company fired Kalia. She sued.

The court said a jury would decide whether the company fired Kalia because of poor work … or because she was pregnant … or because she was complaining about possible discrimination. (Kalia v. Robert Bosch Corporation, No. 07-11013, ED MI, 2008)

Advice: One of the best ways to avoid needless employment discrimination lawsuits is for management to encourage employees to come forward. Doing so shows the company takes discrimination seriously, allows it to fix genuine problems fast and cuts the risk of a lawsuit down the line. That’s why HR should remind supervisors and managers that complaints are always welcome. 

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