Case In Point

Mindy Chapman Esq. is the founder of the nationally acclaimed “Workplace
Training that Clicks & Sticks™” and co-author of the American Bar
Association’s best seller and authority on civil rights training, “Case
Dismissed! Taking Your Harassment Prevention Training to Trial.” Case In Point is an entertaining look at the employment law cases impacting you today, plus practical ways to protect yourself and your company.

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Say one of your employees tells the company doctor he’s had “homicidal feelings” and has thought about shooting his supervisor. It seems clear you could fire the employee if you have a zero-tolerance violence policy. But not so fast. As this case shows, if the employee recently filed a discrimination claim, the firing could be viewed as retaliation. Ugh!
Will a court acknowledge a company “policy” that doesn’t exist on paper? One court recently did—even though the policy wasn’t written anywhere—because the policy was being followed by all managers. Still, when in doubt, it’s best to write it out…
As an HR pro, you have an open door. And you’re always encouraging employees to ask questions about their benefits. But sometimes, that door needs to be shut … and so should your mouth. As a new lawsuit this week shows, repeating even the question asked by an employee can trigger a multi-claim lawsuit …
Adaptive technologies are allowing more Americans to get back to work after injuries, illnesses and other impairments. But make sure your supervisors realize that uneducated comments about those technologies and aids (in this case, a simple cane) can trigger expensive disability discrimination lawsuits …
Employees will be employees. You can only do so much to keep them from saying and doing boneheaded things. But once they do, must you respond to every single incident? Yes, you should, a court said this week. Otherwise, your actions could show your “indifference” to harassment claims.
It’s pretty obvious that you should not fire an employee who just filed a discrimination claim. But is that rule sealed in cement? One court recently said, “Nope, not if the reason is really, really, really good enough.” So what’s “good enough?”
The EEOC says you must “reasonably accommodate” employees' religious beliefs and practices. But you can (and should) step in when that religious zeal crosses the line into religious harassment. Just make sure you treat all employees consistently—or you’ll be praying for the lawsuit to go away…

This one just might take the cake. Or, at least frost you ... It’s true that employers sometimes trot out the “equal opportunity jerk” defense in sexual harassment cases, saying the harassing manager was awful to both women and men. But this court says that isn’t much of a defense at all, noting that, “It would be exceedingly perverse” if an employer could shield itself from Title VII liability by showing an alleged harasser sometimes abused men “although his preferred targets were female.”

We’ve all tussled with fitness-for-duty exams. When are they the right decision? When do they create liability? As a court warned last week, when you need assurance, it’s best to let the doctor make the right call …

Remember what a stamp was? You’d slap it on an envelope, and the letter inside remained private. But technology has changed—and so has privacy expectations of work communications. When employees send text messages on employer-provided phones, are those texts as private as a message in a bottle … or a message in the sky? The U.S. Supreme Court penned a long-awaited warning last week: For now, employees shouldn’t expect text messages at work to be private.

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