People can and do say stupid things—and sometimes instantly regret the words that came out.
When a supervisor says something insensitive, employers must fix the problem and then make sure the comment doesn’t reflect some sort of deep bias. Follow up on the comment with appropriate discipline and then check to see that any discipline recommended by the supervisor is based on independently verifiable information.
Otherwise, you may find yourself facing a discrimination lawsuit—with the ill-considered comment as the key piece of evidence.
Recent case: Deidre Simon worked for the U.S. Postal Service until she failed for weeks to show up for work. She had previously injured herself at work when a mail hamper rolled into her and knocked her backward. She took off more than a year to recover.
Many years later, Simon was cited for . She gave her supervisor a doctor’s note explaining that she was fit to work, but needed a reduced schedule. The post office accommodated her, but she still missed work, finally not showing up at all. That’s when she was terminated for absenteeism.
Simon sued, alleging she had been fired because she was disabled. Part of her bias “proof” was her supervisor’s one-time reference to “cripples,” describing those who need light-duty work.
That wasn’t enough for her to win the lawsuit, because the employer had shown she simply didn’t come to work. (Simon v. Potter, No. 08-3687, 3rd Cir., 2009)
- How to Fire an Employee the Legal Way: 6 Termination Guidelines
- Can we deduct pay from exempt employees who have used up PTO and FMLA leave?
- You aren't required to launch a perfect investigation
- Time for a snap inspection: Make sure bulletin boards don't show signs of bias
- Win harassment claims by keeping good records