Category Archives: Discipline and Discharge

Privately Held Corporations, Quirky Question # 140

Quirky Question # 140:

We have a small closely held company. Our owners are family members and a few close friends. Happily, our company has been increasingly successful. Unhappily, one of our executives does not seem capable of growing with the company. We have made a difficult decision to get rid of this at will employee. When we advised him of this decision, he said that because he felt he had been treated unfairly for some time, he had spoken with a lawyer. He also told us that he is not truly an “at will” employee and that we owe him higher duties. He claims we have breached the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. What is he talking about? Answer→

Searching a Former In-House Counsel’s Computer, Quirky Question # 111

Quirky Question # 111:

We fired one of our in-house counsel.  He now has sued us for a variety of claims, all of which we think are bogus.  At the time his employment ended, we required him to turn in his company-owned computer.  We are reviewing it and finding that it contains a treasure trove of information useful to our defense of his case.  First, it contains evidence that corroborates our justification for the discharge decision – he just was not competent.  Second, it contains his ruminations about his litigation strategy, as well as  memos he prepared for his own lawyer regarding his potential claims.  Given that he composed all of these memos on his company-issued computer and left the memos on the computer when he departed, we assume that we can access and use this material?  Any problems with our assumption? Answer→

Accessing Pornographic Websites, Quirky Question # 109

Quirky Question # 109:

We recently discovered that one of our company’s computers was used to access pornographic websites.  Many different employees had access to this computer, but we believe we know who is responsible.  In part, our conclusion is based on the fact that he is the only male employee who has access to that computer. We’re thinking about terminating his employment based on our impressions.  Frankly, we would rather be sued by him than by our female employees who use that computer, a number of whom complained about the pornographic websites that now often pop up on the computer.  Any risks associated with terminating the male employee? Answer→

WARN Act Issues, Quirky Question # 94

Quirky Question # 94:

I own a company that manufactures boats.  We fabricate fiberglass hulls in one facility and install motors, carpet, seats, steering, etc. in another facility a few miles away.  I employ about 200 employees between the two sites.  Three weeks ago, one of my major customers cancelled a large order.  I haven’t told my employees yet, but this means I may have to let go 50-75 employees within the next month.

I’ve heard of something called the “WARN Act,” that covers employers who have to lay off employees.  Does that law affect me? Answer→

Terminating Bankrupt Employee, Quirky Question # 93

Quirky Question # 93:

I am the Chief Financial Officer of a public company.  I recently learned that the Controller of our company has filed for personal bankruptcy.  I don’t think that we should have someone in that position who has obviously been unable to handle her own finances – not only because she has access to the company’s finances, but also because as word of this spreads, I don’t think that others in management will trust her judgment any longer.  Is there any reason that we cannot terminate her employment? Answer→

Employee Relationships and Protective Orders, Quirky Question # 79

Quirky Question # 79:

Like many companies, we periodically have situations where two of our employees get romantically involved.  (We don’t have a non-fraternization policy and don’t attempt to limit these relationships in any other way.)  Sometimes, the two involved employees have a great relationship and ultimately get married.  Some times, the relationship ends, but the employees seem to work things out amicably and it doesn’t affect their interaction at work.  Some times, it gets ugly.

I’m writing about one of the ugly situations.  For reasons I don’t fully understand, but about which I can draw reasonable inferences, one of our female employees has obtained a Protective Order against her former paramour.  I think they were living together, though our HR records show them as having two difference addresses.  Our female employee provided me with a copy of the Protective Order and asked for my assistance in “keeping that asshole, XXXX, away from me at work.”  She also advised me, in colorful language, that if I don’t keep him away from her, she intends to call the police and have XXXX removed from the worksite.

Frankly, my reaction is “life is too short” for me to have to deal with this nonsense.  Both employees are at-will employees.  My inclination is either to fire one of them or both of them.  Do you seen any problems with either of these approaches? Answer→

Downsizing and Foreign Nationals, Quirky Question # 76

Quirky Question # 76:

I read with interest your analysis of alternatives to layoffs [Quirky Question # 71].  We have a slightly different issue.  Like many companies, we are facing the difficult prospect of downsizing staff.  We are a small technology company with operations in the US and an office abroad.  Among our professional staff are a number of foreign nationals with a veritable alphabet soup of immigration statuses.  We have a permanent resident, a couple of H-1B’s, and L-1A, an L-1B, a TN and an F-1 foreign student thrown in for good measure  If we lay off or reduce the hours or salaries of these individuals are there any special considerations we need to think about from an immigration perspective? Answer→

Downsizing Alternatives? Quirky Question # 71

Quirky Question # 71:

The country is in a recession.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that U.S. employers reduced the size of their workforces by more than 500,000 employees in November alone, with an eleven-month total of more than 1.5 million.

Like every company, we’re considering whether to reduce the size of our workforce sometime during 2009, assuming the economy remains flat.  I’d like to present our management with some reasonable alternatives to laying off significant numbers of our employees.  Do you have any recommendations? Answer→

Domestic Abuse and Wrongful Discharge, Quirky Question # 66

Quirky Question # 66:

One of our employees recently advised us that she and her two children were suffering from domestic violence by her husband.  She requested us to provide her time off to move herself and her children out of the abusive situation at her home.  Frankly, we were somewhat skeptical so we denied her request.  Not long thereafter, her husband beat up one of her children so severely that he required hospitalization.  Again, she requested time off to move herself and her children, this time into a shelter.  Needless to note, we felt very badly about what happened and granted her request.

About a month after returning from leave, her supervisor demoted her.  A few months later, he discharged her.  She is now suing our firm for wrongful termination in violation of public policy?  Is this a legitimate claim in Washington?  If so, what are our risks. Answer→