July 2, 2009
It’s Not Just the Economy! (Links to an article I wrote.)
Here’s a pattern: employers who are using the economy as an excuse to get rid of poor performers or trouble makers who they just haven’t done a good job managing. It’s a bad idea, despite the superficial appeal of allowing the employee to save face by being laid off instead of fired. It’s a bad idea mostly because it’s simply not true. But what’s a little white lie, you ask? Unfortunately it can translate to proof of pretext when defending a lawsuit by the employee. Simple illustration: long time employee, over 40, only female in department, is told she’s being laid off due to the elimination of her position for economic reasons. Four months later she learns that her administrative assistant has been promoted into her old position. Angry, she finds a lawyer and files a charge of age and sex discrimination. When the company tries to defend the termination decision with evidence of poor performance she responds with good performance evaluations and shows that the reason given – position elimination – wasn’t true and that the promotion of the assistant had been planned all along. Her case goes to the jury which may well infer that when the reason given was false, it was hiding the real motivation to get rid of the older female worker. And it may be that she really was a poor performer and that termination for performance reasons could have been supported if properly documented and communicated.