Unfair Treatment at Work: Is New Manager Out of Bounds of Termination Rules?

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Actual Comments of Why Employees Leave

“The new manager told the team leaders that three of the women in our department (including me) were to be put in positions where they knew we would fail. One of the trainers told me they were told to nitpick every little thing we did so they could build a case to fire us.”

The Solution:

A quote like this raises at least two flags and potentially others.

The first question to ask is, “Does our business have “at-will” employees?”

If so, there is no need for management to “set people up to fail” before they can be fired. They can simply be fired. If the new manager comes in and decides that, for example, he or she has different people in mind for the positions currently being filled by the three targeted women, then they can be fired without making them miserable first and documenting “failure” on their records.

Perhaps the new manager came from a company based in a state that was not “at-will” or from a company with a union contract where employers had to show “cause” for firings. If cause is not needed at your company, the new manager needs to know that.

The fact that the exiting employee in this case alleges that three women were being targeted by the new manager certainly is the other flag. No matter what state your company is based in, you cannot fire people for illegal reasons such as discriminatory ones based on age, religious affiliation, ethnicity or—potentially in this case—gender.

Does the new manager prefer not to work with women? That is not a legal reason to fire employees. We would recommend the legal team at this company investigate the situation to make sure that women are not being illegally targeted for termination based purely on gender.

In short, for “at will” states: you don’t need a “reason” to fire, but you cannot fire for an illegal reason. Terminating people because they are women is an illegal reason. It’s discriminatory and a violation of employee rights.

The other potential flag: if the company does, in fact, need “cause” to fire employees because of a collective bargaining agreement or other reason, then that requirement was not met in this case and instead was falsely manufactured.

Setting people up to fail and intentionally creating “job strain,” such as not giving them the resources they need to succeed, is unfair treatment at work and would certainly fail to meet a “termination for cause” employment standard.

In any event, it may be prudent to undergo some sensitivity training with the new manager in question and to do a company-wide review of what does and does not constitute legal terminations moving forward. Because if accurately described by the exiting employee, this scenario is potentially illegal for two reasons—contract/state law “cause” violation and gender discrimination—and, at best, is bad business practice.

(This blog post is brought to you by Human Systems Development, an exit interview company that helps companies reduce employee turnover by providing automated reference checking, exit interviews, and by measuring employee retention. The comments from exiting employees that are featured in this blog are collected from actual exit interviews conducted using ExitRight, HSD’s exit interviewing service. Because we place the privacy of our clients at the top of our priority list; the names of all involved parties are kept completely confidential. Return weekly to reduce employee turnover within your organization).

About Deb Dwyer

Deborah Dwyer is the founder and president of HSD Metrics. With over 30 years of combined experience in human resource management and survey research, Deborah’s extensive knowledge reaches beyond organizational research to include significant expertise in work climate improvement, retention, hiring and selection, employee orientation, performance management systems, recognition programs, and career development systems.

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