Common Sense Goes a Long Way in the Treatment of Others
By Ed Enoch
When I speak to groups of small-business owners, I can tell we are on new ground by the look in their eyes, especially when I start talking about compliance with federal laws dealing with employees. Which is why I constantly stress how important it is to consult with professionals – attorneys, HR professionals, accountants – all of whom can help make sure you comply with these laws.
However, I’m frequently dumbfounded by how far out of the way some employers go to get themselves in trouble with their employees. While technical compliance with the law can be difficult, usually you will arrive at the same answer by simply applying a very old law – the Golden Rule. Remember that one? “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I expect you heard it from your parents or Sunday school teachers all during your growing-up years.
As I read and listen to stories of how managers have dealt with employees, it seems many of them did not learn this rule. In fact, sometimes they go out of their way to make life difficult for someone for no reason. Two examples came across my desk this week.
The first was a medical center that terminated a 36-year employee after she broke her shoulder and asked to be returned to work on light duty. There was a light-duty job available, but the medical center chose to terminate her instead of either placing her in that job or entering into any kind of discussion about how she might be integrated back into the workforce.
The other example was a shipyard that made a provisional offer of employment to an experienced welder. The offer of employment was contingent on him passing the company physical. Part of that physical was a hearing test. The prospective employee informed the employer he wore hearing aids and asked to be tested with his hearing aids in place.
The employer refused and forced the employee to take the hearing test without his hearing aids. Consequently, he failed the test and the employer rescinded his offer of employment. Now if you’ve ever been around a welding shop or in a shipyard, it is hard to imagine why a welder could not do his job wearing hearing aids.
The EEOC got involved in both cases. The medical center agreed to settle for $100,000. The shipyard case is still in litigation, but there’s not much question in my mind about how that will come out.
Representing employers, I deal with discrimination and harassment claims on a regular basis. We spend a lot of time in strategy and defense but fundamentally the issue generally comes down to, “Did you treat this person as you would want to be treated?”