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Remind managers: Comments about weight can trigger harassment complaints

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Firing,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Performance Reviews

When people lose their jobs, they often look for some reason other than their own poor performance. And since they are off work, they have lots of time to think about the past, including real or imagined slights they endured at the hands of co-workers and supervisors.

Sometimes, those slights trigger the idea that their terminations were related to some illegal motive, such as disability discrimination. The next stop is often an attorney’s office.

Preventing those lawsuits requires two steps. First, make sure you base termination decisions on substantive problems such as poor performance or economic reasons, such as profit pressures.

Second, make sure all managers, supervisors and employees understand that the workplace is not the place for joking about disabilities or other protected characteristics.

Recent case: Alex Cordero, who is morbidly obese, endured what he described as harassment by his supervisor because of his weight.

When he was terminated for poor performance, he sued, alleging he had really been fired because of his disability. He tried to tie the supervisor’s comments to the discharge.

Fortunately for the employer, it had solid documentation showing it had fired Cordero because he consistently missed deadlines and did substandard work.

The court dismissed the case, saying Cordero couldn’t show that his weight was linked to his discharge. Plus, he never complained to anyone about disability discrimination and therefore never gave the employer a chance to fix the problem. (Cordero v. State of Florida, No. 08-11213, 11th Cir., 2008)

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