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Multistate businesses: Standardize your policies and supervisor training

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Firing,HR Management,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

If your company has policies on job transfers or resignations (and it should), make sure they are clearly articulated and strictly followed by managers at all locations. Reason: Just one slip-up in how a field supervisor follows the rules can lead to discrimination claims. And an employee's lawyer will pounce on your inconsistency.

How can you ensure consistent application at all sites? Don't leave any wiggle room in your policies to allow confusion or interpretation among managers. And don't just send off a bunch of stale words that will sit on a shelf. Communicate those policies clearly and often, possibly through a video presentation sent to all branch managers. Finally, require your front-line managers to obtain approval for firings and demotions from district managers or field HR personnel who are well-versed on company policy.

Recent case: After Home Depot cashier Maria Flores became pregnant, she asked for a transfer to the phone center, which was less physically demanding. The store manager said there were no openings, and she'd have to apply formally through the company's transfer system. She landed a job as cashier in the store's Tool Corral, but she also found those duties to be too demanding and again requested a transfer, which the company denied.

Flores gave two weeks' notice, but her manager immediately fired her. Flores sued, claiming racial discrimination. The company said it had a legitimate reason for firing her immediately, pointing to Home Depot's policy of terminating cash-handling employees on the spot. But the company was sunk in court by its inconsistency on two levels:

1. Plenty of other cash-handling employees were not immediately fired after tendering their resignations.

2. The company had previously let a white pregnant woman work in the phone center without having to apply formally.

Bottom line: Once your supervisors start straying from prescribed policies, even if you have locations all over the globe, courts will hit back hard. (Flores v. The Home Depot Inc., Civ. Action No. 01-6908, E.D. Penn., 2003)

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