Avoid Workplace Defamation Claims by Using Workforce Management

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And they said documentation was boring… Workforce lawsuits come in a variety of flavors, but most employers don’t anticipate that firing an employee for poor attendance can turn into a defamation claim. For example, although a manager states in his defense that he fired an employee for tardiness, the employee could contest that it was due to discrimination (sex, age, ethnicity, medical condition, etc.). Employers using workforce management systems could have some defense, however.

Make Objective Documentations

To beat a defamation claim, an employer can’t rely on he-said-she-said logic. An employer must prove that the employee actually was consistently tardy. Supply the court with attendance records that show arrival or departure times or patterns that would confirm certain behaviors.

If the employee has a medical condition that requires an adjusted time, then managers, schedulers, and HR need to consider creative options. For example, if the employee needs to come into work 30 minutes late every day due to dialysis, perhaps her schedule can be adjusted by 30 minutes to compensate. Intermittent leave, where the employee needs different amounts of time off at different times of day, may be more complex. Employers should work with such employees to understand their medical needs and document strategies on how to balance those with the attendance requirements of the position. Be able to prove that schedules didn’t subjugate certain employees and that attendance rules were enforced with a consistent approach by managers. This is where employers can get in trouble.

Fair treatment applies even to an employer’s method of documentation. Employers should be sure to keep the depth of information in comments and records consistent and objective. If employers accept “I have a medical condition,” as a reason for the tardiness of one employee, they should not inquire into what type of medical condition another employee must have to qualify for the same benefit.

Keep Private Information Private

The second defense is to share private information only on a need-to-know basis. During system setup, most employers will assign and restrict certain access levels to different user profiles. For example, managers should not be able to edit time record data after it has been sent to payroll for payment processing. This keeps records accurate and consistent. Use user profiles to protect employees by hiding certain unnecessary information. Front-line managers don’t need social security numbers or driver’s license numbers to manage their people, and timekeepers don’t need to know a person’s ethnicity or age to approve time records. Adding in this information could raise issues regarding privacy and discrimination. A timekeeper may need to be aware that a certain employee has a medical condition that causes him to leave early from work, but the timekeeper does not need to know the specifics of the problem. During system and user setup, always consider the confidentiality of the information viewed or accessed by the users. Collecting personally identifiable and sensitive information may be necessary in some circumstances, but employers shouldn’t allow it to work against them.

Employers should be certain that any claim against employees can be supported by good, hard evidence; evidence collected and documented in an auditable system like time and attendance, scheduling, or absence and leave.