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Warn managers and supervisors: No negative talk about military service

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in Leaders & Managers,Performance Reviews

Here’s a good way to avoid litigation: Warn all your supervisors and managers that bad-mouthing an employee’s military service can spell trouble. That’s because any disciplinary action following such talk could be viewed as evidence military service was a factor in the decision.

Recent case: Rick Madden, a member of the Air Force Reserve, worked as a temp for Rolls Royce. His supervisor soon realized that Madden’s skills were subpar and decided not to offer him a permanent position.

Madden sued when he wasn’t hired for permanent work, alleging that his supervisor had told him his coming active-duty stint was one of the reasons he wasn’t picked.

Madden argued that under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, he should get a jury trial to determine whether the company got rid of him because he was in the military.

Fortunately for the company, it had documented the real discharge reason—poor performance. Even if the supervisor had said what Madden claimed he said (the supervisor denied it), the company had evidence it would have terminated Madden anyway for poor performance. (Madden v. Rolls Royce Corporation, No. 08-1923, 7th Cir., 2009)

Final note: The company in this case also discovered that Madden had lied about his education, claiming to be a university graduate with an aeronautical engineering degree. In fact, he had flunked out. The court said the employer could use that discovery as an additional reason it wasn’t liable.

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