The HR Specialist: Ohio Employment Law

Dave’s Supermarket will shell out $300,000 to settle sexual harassment charges after it failed to act swiftly to address a misbehaving meat manager at its Lee-Harvard Shopping Center store on Cleveland’s east side.

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Under limited circumstances, an em­­ployee can claim that harassment or discrimination at work made her life so miserable that she had no choice but to quit. She can then walk out and sue as if she had been fired. But what if it turns out that the employee found a job before quitting? That can sink her claim.

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Employers have the right to expect em­­ployees to listen to reasonable directions, accept criticism and otherwise behave in a civilized way. When an employee becomes insubordinate, the employer has the right to discipline her, including firing if necessary.

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Employees who claim they worked in an environment so sexually hostile that they suffered psychological damage may have to undergo a mental examination and intensive testing before the case goes to trial. It’s the only way an employer can determine whether the alleged damage was indeed related to the harassment, or perhaps came from another source.

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Some people will do anything to get out of work early, including lying about their child’s health. One employer did the smart thing and demanded proof when it became suspicious.

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When firing an employee, always note exactly when you decided to terminate her. You will no doubt know before the employee does. Your good record-keeping can shoot down an employee’s attempt to blame the firing on something illegal—like disability discrimination or an attempt to interfere with the employee’s FMLA rights.

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When companies draft their employee handbooks, they often strive for certainty. Employees want to know what the rules are and employers often oblige with draconian, zero-tolerance rules. No wonder managers often try to apply all the rules equally in all situations. But the smart money is on flexibility.

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The EEOC has been pushing the idea that using credit reports to screen job applicants may discriminate on the basis of race—and it’s actively pursuing cases in federal court. But now an Ohio federal court has limited the scope of a class-action lawsuit after the EEOC wanted to include many years of hiring history.

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Yes, employers must reasonably accom­modate employees with disabilities. But that doesn’t mean they have to provide a perfect workplace—or tolerate subpar performance. Instead, make the accommodations that are reasonable. If the employee still can’t perform her job’s essential functions, you can terminate her.

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It gets tiresome hearing complaints all day. But managers need to understand that showing any irritation when an employee gripes may taint any subsequent disciplinary action against the complainer. The best approach is to accept every complaint with a smile and send it on to HR.

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