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Remind managers: Base hiring only on job-related reasons

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in Firing,Hiring,Human Resources

Issue: Can you place conditions on employment that aren't related to the person's ability to perform the job?

Risk: Courts may see such restrictions as illegal "employment blackmail."

Action: Remind hiring managers to stick to job-related criteria for hirings and firings; keep personal lives out of such decisions.

You're free to set certain terms and conditions for employees' jobs. But make sure none of those conditions trample on employees' constitutionally protected rights, particularly rights that apply to their personal lives.

As a new court ruling shows, courts will react harshly to organizations that place conditions on employment that have nothing to do with the person's ability to perform the job. Examples of such "employment blackmail": requiring your employees to do business with your organization's top customer, or asking employees' family members to refrain from working for your competitors.

While you may have legitimate reasons to regulate employees' off-duty activities, you can only do so if the activity is directly related to job performance. Have a strong business reason for the decision, backed by a company policy.

Case in point: A public-school principal told substitute teacher Patrick Barrett that he wouldn't gain a permanent teaching position unless he enrolled his son in public school.

So, Barrett pulled his son out of private school and enrolled him in the public school. Even after that, he still wasn't offered several available teaching jobs. When Barrett reminded school officials of their job promise, they denied it. Rethinking his decision, Barrett transferred his son back to private school. He then was fired, allegedly for disloyalty.

He sued, claiming that school officials wrongfully discharged him and violated his constitutionally protected "liberty interest", or individual freedom under the First and 14th Amendments, to direct the education of his children.

A district court sided with Barrett, and a federal appeals court agreed. Parents have a constitutionally protected right to raise their children as they see fit, the court said. And an employer can't base employment on the waiver of that right. (Barrett v. Steubenville City Schools, No. 03-4373, 6th Cir., 2004)

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