This article was written by Jesse Oakeson, Director of Human Resources and General Counsel for Helpside. Jesse helps our clients navigate the complex world of employer compliance.
“I am sorry to inform you,” the manager’s firing-by-text began, “but it’s not going to work out with Jersey Mike’s. It’s not a good time for us to have someone who is leaving for maternity leave in several months anyways. You also failed to tell me this during our interview.”
Pregnancy discrimination is a reality for many American women, but a written, managerial admission of discrimination is rare. Perhaps that’s why this story of a manager’s unceremonious sacking of a pregnant worker went viral so quickly. The unfortunate text went out on Wednesday. By Thursday, the AP picked up the story, and by Friday the news crossed the pond and was relayed by the UK’s Daily Mail (along with dozens of other news outlets).
The timing of the media firestorm was not ideal for the sandwich store’s owner who opened the Washington state franchise location only weeks earlier. Of course, the embarrassed manager resigned, and the store owner made all the right excuses. A CBS News article quoted him as saying it “should have never ever happened…It’s our policy to treat everybody equally.” But apparently, the owner had failed to properly train his manager about the “treat everybody equally” policy. And although the level of public interest in this story was unique, court filings in employment cases are brimming with allegations of similar managerial missteps. In a decade of defending employment discrimination cases as an attorney, I learned that most employment cases could be avoided by simply training managers on the rudiments of major employment laws.
Case in point is the experience of Jared Fields, a hotel clerk at the Hazard, Kentucky Hampton Inn. Jared confided to his boss that he and his wife were having marital problems. In an interesting twist, his boss decided that Jared’s struggles were caused by demonic possession as opposed to some other more humdrum culprit for discord. The boss’s solution: a spiritual cleansing. She told Jared to complete a nine-page pre-exorcism questionnaire from her church that posed a variety of probing and personal questions about Jared’s sex life, his family history, religious background, and even whether he had any “kitchen witches.” Jared declined the spiritual cleansing offer, but his boss was unwilling to let the demons alone. She allegedly rescheduled Jared to work on the night shift and brought her church friends to the hotel lobby to pray for Jason while he worked the front desk. Ultimately, Jason quit and sued—claiming he had been the victim of religious discrimination. Like the Jersey Mike’s case, the exorcism case got substantial media interest and underscored the importance of educating managers about employment laws.
And while avoiding embarrassment is a useful goal, it is far from the only reason to train employees. Employee training on harassment issues can be part of an affirmative defense if an employee sues for discrimination; and the Society of Human Resource Management identifies employee development efforts, such as training, as a key component of employee satisfaction. In short, good training makes a business a better place to work. So, although employers may think they can’t afford the time and financial cost of training, employers really can’t afford to avoid it. The good news for Helpside clients is that we can provide you with regular employee training at no additional cost. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. For everyone else, an employment law attorney can connect you with the most essential types of training. If you need help finding an employment attorney, reach out to us for a recommendation.