Category Archives: Discipline and Discharge

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→

Litigation by In-House Counsel, Quirky Question # 50

Quirky Question # 50:

We are a small to mid-size company, with a relatively small legal department.  We have a General Counsel.  He, in turn, supervises two other attorneys.  The General Counsel joined our company about two years ago, and frankly, his relationship with C-level executives has not been ideal.  His relationship with the CEO has been particularly strained.  The CEO has advised me (Head of HR) on several occasions that she just does not trust the General Counsel.  She has expressed doubts about his judgment, his advice, and, critically, his loyalty to the Company.

The CEO recently asked me to initiate the process to remove the General Counsel from our firm.  I don’t know whether this leaked out, but soon thereafter, the General Counsel began sharing with me his concerns about whether our company is complying with the law in a number of areas squarely within his area of expertise.  He advised me that he informed the CEO and CFO of his evaluation but they appear to be ignoring his advice.  I feel as though I’m caught in the middle.

Assuming that we follow through with our plans to terminate the General Counsel, do we have any risks?  My assumption is that everything he has been told in the course of his job is protected by the attorney-client privilege and could not be revealed in any lawsuit against the company.  Similarly, I assume that he could not contend that he was fired in retaliation for bringing the supposedly illegal activities to our executives’ attention, inasmuch the concerns he articulated are squarely within his job responsibilities as our chief legal officer.  Am I missing anything? Answer→

Firing An Employee for Having an Abortion, Quirky Question # 46

Quirky Question # 46:

We are a privately held company that runs a large software sales organization.  The family that started our company and that still dominates its executive ranks has conservative values.  Among those issues about which the owners feel strongly is the abortion issue.  They do not believe that women should have abortions under any circumstances.

One of our employees who was pregnant recently learned that there were serious problems with her unborn child.  Although her own life would not have been in jeopardy had she carried the child to term, her physicians recommended that she terminate the pregnancy.  She and her husband agonized over this decision but decided to follow the medical recommendations.

I am the HR Director and I have now been instructed to terminate our employee’s employment.  No explanation has been offered for why the company wants to discharge her.  I do know, however, that she has not previously had any performance problems.  To the contrary, she always has been highly regarded, a fact that is reflected in her glowing annual performance appraisals.  Moreover, the discharge decision is not being motivated by any economic downturn.  Our company is exceeding our year’s financial goals and no other employees are being laid off.

My instincts tell me the directive I have received is motivated by the fact that our employee decided to have an abortion, though no one specifically provided that explanation to me.  Nevertheless, this directive just does not sit well with me.  If I terminate her employment when she returns from the leave associated with the medical procedure and the funeral of her child, will I be exposing the company to risk? Answer→

Need for Search Warrant, Quirky Question # 36

Quirky Question # 36:

We recently learned that one of our employees has illegal pornography on his work computer.  We know we can discipline him (up to and including termination).The police recently requested a copy of his computer hard drive.  Can we turn the hard drive over to the authorities even if they do not have a search warrant?  Do we have to notify the employee that we are going to do so? Answer→

Quirky Question # 29, Maintaining Electronic Records

Quirky Question # 29:

Our company has offices in California.  This year we want to improve our document retention practices.  We’ve decided to maintain electronic records of personnel files.  Can we do this in California?  We were told that California law requires the records to be available at the job site.  If this is true, can we switch to an electronic database in California? Answer→