Employer’s Super Anti-Harassment Policy May Increase Its Liability

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A federal court in Connecticut recently concluded that a fired employee could have a valid disability harassment claim based on statements prohibiting all harassment contained in the employer’s personnel manual. The company manual did not have standard “this manual does not create contract rights” language and stated that it prohibited any inappropriate workplace conduct, “not only illegal harassment.” Based on the absence of contract disclaimer language and other language in the handbook, the court held that the employer’s “super anti-harassment” policy could create an enforceable contract right to be protected from all harassment. Thus, even though the fired employee’s statutory disability harassment claim failed because he waited too long to bring it, his breach of contract claim survived. Ouch. Continue reading this entry

Huge Jury Award in Pregnancy Discrimination Case – But Will It Stick?

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Causing waves to travel through the legal community, a California jury has recently ordered a woman’s former employer to pay her $186 million in punitive damages. In the case, the woman claimed that she had been demoted after becoming pregnant and was terminated after she complained about gender and pregnancy discrimination. The jury set punitive damages at more than 200 times the amount of her actual economic losses, found to be $800,000. Continue reading this entry

Bullies at Work? It’s Time to Take Action Because It May Be More Common Than You Think

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You may recall some recent high profile stories in the media involving teenagers committing suicide as a result of being bullied by their peers. However, bullying is not limited to the playground or teenagers engaged in social media. Recent surveys indicate that bullying is also prevalent in the workplace. For example, a survey commissioned earlier this year by the Workplace Bullying Institute indicated that 27% of Americans have suffered abusive conduct at work, while 72% of those surveyed are aware that workplace bullying happens. Continue reading this entry

Mental Health and the Workplace — Accommodations

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Depression. Anxiety. Bipolar Disorder.

These and similar mental health diagnoses may affect your boss, the CEO of your company, the head of HR, your assistant, two of your peer workers, or maybe even you.

And their symptoms may also affect how well employees perform their jobs. Just as with physical disorders, mental disorders that rise to the level of qualifying as a “disability” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (and similar state and local laws) require the employer to provide accommodations to allow the employee to perform essential job functions. This article explores some of the steps you should be taking as an employer of someone with a mental disability — and the first step is to start the process with patience. As a wise colleague of mine recently told me, “Patience is a weapon. Use it aggressively.” Continue reading this entry

Multiple Requests for Extension of Medical Leave – Three Strikes and the Employee Is Not Out!

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A recent Americans with Disabilities Act case is a reminder the employers must proceed carefully before denying repeated requests for extensions of medical leave by an employee. In the case, the employer had a “personal leave” policy that allowed for up to two additional 30-day leaves of absence after Family and Medical Leave Act leave was exhausted, subject to the employer’s approval based on individual circumstances. The policy also provided that “personal leave of absence may not be granted for more than 60 days in a rolling 12-month period.” The employee exhausted her FMLA leave in July 2009, after taking intermittent leave since November 2008. At that time, she requested a 30-day personal leave based on her doctor’s statement that she would be able to return to work one month later, in August 2009. This leave request was approved. The employee was unable to return to work in August 2009, and she submitted another note from her doctor saying that she would be able to return to work a month later, this time in September 2009. The employer granted that request also. When that leave expired, the employee presented a doctor’s note that said she would be able to return to work in February 2010, five months later. The employer terminated the employee at that point because she was unable to return to work. Continue reading this entry