Dear HR Executive:
How tough can a boss be? Some would argue, "As tough as it takes to get the job done." But we've seen lots of legal cases where demanding bosses provoke lawsuits. I recall one involving a woman with a mental disorder whose doctor told her to work no more than 40 hours a week at her job in a shopping mall. During holiday season her boss accused her of being a slacker for not helping out by working longer hours. She caved in and worked overtime, but got so stressed out she had a breakdown. She sued. And she won.
Here's an article from B21's newsletter Human Resources 21 that discusses two cases where bosses stepped over the line and provoked lawsuits that resulted in court battles, one of which led to a jury ruling against the company. Read on.
When strict taskmasters push subordinates too hard
Costly ADA lawsuits can ensue if employees break down mentally
Supervisors who “ride” their subordinates so hard they break down can make the company liable for ADA damages.
In a Utah case, an employee and his supervisor had a bad history that went back a decade, when the latter refused to work under the former.
When the roles were reversed, the supervisor rode the employee so hard that, allegedly, the worker’s health deteriorated. He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and allegedly lost control of his bladder and bowels.
The employee filed an ADA suit, and the court said his case was strong enough to go to trial.
And in an Arkansas case, a supervisor would quiz an employee about minutiae in the bulky daily operations report, and ridicule him if he couldn’t answer. The employee had a nervous breakdown and, before returning to work, insisted on having an agenda for meetings with the supervisor so he wouldn’t be surprised.
The company claimed it would be too costly to prepare the agendas he wanted.
The employee sued for disability discrimination. A jury awarded him thousands of dollars in lost wages and compensatory damages for the employer’s failure to accommodate him.
Strict, not vindictive
Managers have to walk a fine line. Sometimes recalcitrant employees need strict supervision.
But when strictness crosses the line into vindictiveness, causing severe mental distress, legal trouble isn’t far away.
Cite: Battle v. UPS, Nos. 04-4123/04-4128, 8th Cir., 2/21/06. Jirsa v. Utah DOT, 2:03CV00425, D. Utah, 3/7/06.
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