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Know the difference between whistle-blowing and an employee looking for an excuse to sue

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in Employment Law,Firing,Human Resources

There’s whistle-blowing and then there’s setting up one’s employer for a lawsuit. Genuine whistle-blowers are protected from retaliation. Those looking to make a quick buck are not.

Recent case: Jenna Wood worked as an HR assistant. She took a few courses in paralegal studies at the local community college and began researching law while at work.

When her employer wanted to mandate direct deposit for paychecks, Wood did some research and concluded that it would be illegal. She reported her conclusion to her supervisor’s boss during a company meeting and was informed that management would run the issue past its attorney before implementing the new rule.

Meanwhile, it became apparent that Wood had been spending time on independent, personal research when she should have been doing her job. She was told she needed to get her filing backlog cleared up and should not conduct any more personal research on company time.

Wood wouldn’t let the direct-deposit issue go. She wrote memos, got into arguments and generally was a nuisance. She was then terminated for insubordination.

She sued, alleging she was a whistle-blower.

The court disagreed. It said Wood’s initial report was job-related and her subsequent reports and arguments were rehashings of her initial report.

Plus, she was fired for not doing the tasks assigned to her. It didn’t help her case that her last words to her supervisor were, “I was hoping you would terminate me.” (Wood v. SatCom., No. 11-503, DC MN, 2012)

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