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Nothing will fuel a lawsuit more than management’s poor behavior. While discharging an employee for any reason is stressful for everyone involved, there is a right and a wrong way to do it.

The wrong way is to get emotional, to shout and unceremoniously throw the employee off the premises. The right way is to calmly explain the situation and give the employee privacy and respect by allowing her to pack her belongings away from prying eyes.

Recent case: Rocket Enterprises, a flag manufacturer, hired Mary Bischoff as a flag seamstress. But two months later, management wanted to outsource Bischoff’s job and decided to terminate her.

Unfortunately, Bischoff chose the same day to complain about sexual harassment. She told her boss—who was about to fire her—that she had endured a co-worker’s insistence that the radio remain tuned to a sexually explicit talk show and had to listen to sex jokes throughout the workday. The boss, after hearing her out, told her to meet him in the conference room. There, he told her she was fired and demanded she leave immediately.

Bischoff then had a panic attack, which required an ambulance to be called. Meanwhile, the boss had her personal belongings dumped in a box. While she was on the ambulance gurney, he bent over her and demanded her office keys.

Consequently, the court concluded the timing was highly suspicious. It ordered a trial to determine whether Bischoff’s discharge was actually retaliation for complaining about sexual harassment. The company will have to explain its poor timing to a jury. (EEOC v. Rocket Enterprises, No. 06-14319, ED MI, 2007)

Final note: The appropriate approach would have been to listen carefully to Bischoff’s complaints, conduct an investigation—and delay the termination. Chances are, the brief time she was allegedly subjected to a sexually hostile environment would not have added up to sexual harassment. Instead, by its actions and poor timing, this employer may have created a lawsuit where previously none existed.

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