Consistency may be “the hobgoblin of little minds,” as Ralph Waldo Emerson said. But inconsistency is likely the quickest route to an employee lawsuit.
Latest case in point: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed a lawsuit against a New Hampshire defense firm, claiming it violated the Americans with Disabilities Act when it fired an employee who said she needed surgery.
According to the EEOC, Windmill International, Inc. fired Nancy Hajjar after Hajjar told the company that she had blocked carotid arteries, a potentially life-threatening condition that would likely require surgery.
A few days later, Hajjar informed the company that she would need to take time off for the surgery and that she might need heart surgery as well.
And a week after that, she was fired. The company explained she was let go for poor performance.
But the EEOC disagreed, stating in a press release: “(T)his explanation was false, because, unlike other employees with alleged performance issues, the company never placed Hajjar on a written performance improvement plan, and the company’s explanation for why it failed to do so was also false.”
The press release doesn’t reveal what the company said to explain why the employee wasn’t placed on a PIP.
The case was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire, and its outcome is still anybody’s guess.
But the EEOC’s charge that the employer violated the ADA by not acting consistently in dealing with employee performance problems should set off alarm bells for HR pros.
Equal, consistent treatment of workers is an absolute must in today’s litigious employment law atmosphere.
Failing to follow what’s become established procedure — especially when that failure involves an employee who’s clearly got an ADA issue — almost invariably comes back to bite the employer.
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