Take direct approach to firing

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in Employment Law,Firing,Human Resources

As Mary Flaherty saw it, her bosses at Metromail were running an organized campaign to make her so miserable that she'd quit. Flaherty, 61, says supervisors subjected her to sexist and age-related comments, transferred her largest accounts to male managers and gave her less support than male co-workers.

At one point, Flaherty received a letter saying she might be fired if she didn't meet budget projections. A year later, Flaherty resigned. A couple of months after resigning, she filed suit, claiming she'd been constructively discharged.

Constructive discharge occurs when an employer, rather than directly firing a worker, intentionally creates an intolerable work atmosphere that forces the employee to quit. Under federal law, Flaherty had to file her case with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission within 300 days of the alleged discriminatory acts.

A lower court threw out the case, saying Flaherty missed the deadline because the clock started ticking when she got the letter. But an appeals court let her case proceed, saying the clock started on the date Flaherty gave notice, since that indicates when the conditions became intolerable. (Flaherty v. Metromail Corp., No. 00-7467, 2nd Cir., 2000)

Advice: Trying to run employees out of town by making their lives miserable will only bring you more legal trouble. The at-will doctrine lets you fire most workers for any reason, as long as you don't discriminate. Take a direct approach to terminations and maintain a professional atmosphere.

If you do get sued, have your attorney first check to see if the case was filed on time. You'd be amazed at the number of claims dismissed as untimely.

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