Inconsistent hiring sinks your defense

Don’t leave the hiring and firing process up to your managers. Standardize your practices, and make sure everyone follows them. Giving any worker, especially a disabled one, the bum’s rush will give him plenty of ammunition for a lawsuit.

Recent case: Paul Wennik had been a branch manager for 21 years when he took medical leave for depression and anxiety disorder. His employer kept his position open and, when Wennik returned, granted his accommodation requests.

But three months later, the firm eliminated all nine of its branch manager positions in a companywide reorganization. While seven managers were given new positions within the company without having to apply formally, Wennik wasn’t. He had to interview for a newly created field, marketing manager position. But he wasn’t hired.

He sued, claiming disability and age discrimination, plus retaliation. A jury sided with him, saying the company’s decision was due to his previous leave for depression and anxiety, and a federal appeals court agreed.

Where did the company go wrong? Running Wennik through a different application process raised a big red flag, plus company officials gave conflicting statements at different points of the legal process as to why they rejected him. (Wennik v. Polygram Group Distribution Inc., Nos. 01-1092, 01-1093, 01-2125, 1st Cir., 2002)

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Advice: Providing reasonable accommodations to disabled workers, as this company did, will go a long way in preventing a lawsuit. But it’s also vital to make sure your hiring process is exactly the same for everyone.

And when you decide against hiring someone, make sure all your decision makers express consistent and clear reasons for the decision, both orally and in writing. Contradictory stories will kill you in court.

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