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Legal Matters

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

A cautionary tale

Here's a true story that should put a good scare in managers who think they're doing every­thing right and underestimate their chances of legal exposure:

A hospital employee complained that a female colleague "intimidated" him by being "physically more aggressive" in transporting patients. Because the supervisor didn't take his side, she was biased toward women, he claimed; indeed, the entire hospital was a "sexually intimidating environment" for men. The complaint ended in a settlement in which the hospital admitted no wrongdoing and clar­ified its policies.

A year later, a layoff hit both the plaintiff and the supervisor, and more than 100 other workers. (The exec who ordered the downsizing even laid off her own husband.) Despite being offered a chance for priority rehiring (which the plaintiff didn't take, because he was "intimidat­ed" by HR), he sued, alleging retaliation—and won at trial. even after the hospital rehired him anyway, he pressed on with the suit, until an appellate court applied some common sense and judged his claims without merit.

Return to work required

When employees take protected long-term leave—such as under the Family and Medical Leave Act—you almost always have to let them return to work, in their same jobs, with the same pay and benefits. You probably know this already, at least on paper. But when such a situ­ation actually arises, and you discover you can easily live without the absent worker—or have found a fill-in who does the job better—it can be maddening to not be able to make a person­nel change. Sorry. The FMLA and other employ­ment laws lean heavily in the employee's favor. If you decide, in an employee's absence, that he's a performance problem, you have to man­age that problem the hard way: with coaching, counseling and discipline after he returns.


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