Blocking employee’s exit could be false imprisonment

Do the supervisors in your organization know how to handle potentially volatile employment discussions? If they don’t use kid gloves, they could be sued personally by employees for state torts such as false imprisonment and battery.

While the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act shields the organization from liability in such cases, angry employees can go after their supervisors’ pocketbooks.

Best bet: Require management to treat every employee with dignity and sensitivity, especially if the person becomes emotionally distraught. Shouting, telling employees to sit down, grabbing them by the arm or blocking an exit or doorway may be enough to launch a lawsuit.

Recent case: Ashley McClain, assistant manager at a Philadelphia-area McDonald’s, began taking leave when her father became ill.

When her supervisors challenged her need for some of that leave, she threatened to quit. They persuaded her to stay, but then their relationship turned dicey.


Finally, when McClain didn’t show up for work, her superiors placed her on administrative leave. She stormed into the restaurant and demanded to attend a managers’ meeting, but left when they called the police.

Later, they called her in and presented two documents: a resignation and a statement that she was unfit to manage a McDonald’s. When she tried to leave, one of the supervisors blocked her exit and bumped her arm.

She sued for battery and false imprisonment. The court let McDonald’s Corporation off the hook, reasoning that workers’ compensation would cover any possible injury. But it allowed the case McClain brought against two managers personally to go to trial, reasoning that the state’s Workers’ Compensation Act doesn’t cover torts by managers. (McClain v. McDonald’s Corporation, et al., No. 05-1117, ED PA, 2007)

Final tip: Set clear rules for disciplinary meetings. Make sure supervisors understand they can be personally liable for a wide range of wrongs, such as false imprisonment and battery.