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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

No Legal Advice Here

I have a co-worker (who also happens to be a house-mate). We had been working together at the same company for two weeks when this individual was fired this week due to inappropriate use of company property (extremely inappropriate web-site browsing) coupled with over-anxiety for a skill-test. I work at a security monitoring center where we are required to be level-headed at all times. When the date of the skill-test drew near, my former co-worker began to panic and spent the last two days before the test stating that they would be better off resigning, at times openly panicking during training and once bursting into tears.

Anyways, that problem became moot after it was discovered that my former co-worker was browsing the web, on company computers and going to extremely inappropriate websites. This person was subsequently fired the following Monday.

My house-mate is now intent on filing a law-suit against the company on charges of discrimination, stating that the company discriminated by firing this person because they were too emotional for the job. I believe that this is a waste of this person's time, due to the other factor involved in the termination

My question is this: is my house-mate (former co-worker) within their rights to file charges against the company based on what has transpired?

Discrimination is such a threatening word. It sounds like you have a real grievance when you say, "but they discriminated against me!" Well, discrimination isn't illegal. (What!?!?! Of course it is.)

No, it isn't. We all discriminate all the time. We make decisions based on characteristics. (I discriminate against all sandwiches with mayonnaise. Blech.) I also discriminate against people who show up to job interviews inappropriately dressed. (Ladies, leave the Daisy Duke shorts at home. Okay, that was when I worked for an auto parts wholesaler, and I wasn't conducting the interview, but the woman didn't get the job and the entire office talked about her for weeks.)

Now, there is a chance your house mate could win a claim based on a violation of the Americans with Disability Act, but given that he (to my knowledge) never asked for accommodations for such a disability, I think this is a long shot. Besides, someone who is too emotional to actually do the job may not have a reasonable accommodation available to him.

If I was the HR person handling that, I would take his threat as an empty one. Why? If he's been looking at "inappropriate" websites, that is a slam dunk in and of itself. (Of course, I'm now waiting for someone to send me a link where a court said that looking at "inappropriate" websites at work was due to a mental problem covered by ADA.) This is a situation where a termination for cause applies, and I would even fight unemployment. Because I'm just that mean.

No, it's not that I'm just that mean. Some things are just INAPPROPRIATE for work. Period. That is one of them. "Inappropriate" websites don't just prevent the person from doing his/her work, it also opens the company up to lawsuits. You don't believe me? Read yesterday's post about a bad radio station.

Tell your housemate that he made a big mistake and he better darn well not do it again and he should go out and try to find a new job. Preferably something that doesn't bring out the emotional stress level this past one did.


Ask a Manager said...

I am baffled about why so many people think that a lawsuit is an option whenever an employer does something they don't like. Next we're going to hear people complaining that they were discriminated against for being lazy ... or incompetent .. or jerky. Come on. It's sort of an affront to the people who discrimination laws were actually designed to protect.

Sandi Mays said...

ask a manager,

Your comment made me laugh! The question is ... how many lawyers might take the case?


Ms Bart said...

As my condo assn lawyer says everytime a wackadoo resident wants to sue, the beauty of the US is that anyone can try to sue anyone else anytime. (Think of the revenue this opinion can generate for her!) I'd recommend this reader not get involved and find a new roomie. (The stress of paying rent will soon takes it toll, no doubt!)

Now, where can I sign up for a class action suit against mayonnaise and it's advocates? Cause that stuff is slimy (and not particularly healthy).

Evil HR Lady said...

ms bart, I'm sure we can find a lawyer to represent us. Just the fact that restaurants automatically put it on perfectly good sandwiches and we have to ASK to not have any has given me years of stress.

And let's not talk about the times where they have made a mistake and given me a hamburger with that evil slime on it.

class factotum said...

Wasn't there some guy at IBM or an auto company who was fired for using the work computer to look at porn and sued, saying he was a sex addict?

class factotum said...

Why yes indeed there was:

He looked at porn to relieve his PTSD from serving in Vietnam.


Kevin said...

Yes he did sue under the ADA, but he has not gotten very far with this case. I've been following this for several years and to date, no one has been able to win a wrongful terminiation suit on the grounds of "internet addiction" because it is not defined as a psychological condition yet by the relevant body. If it ever comes to a point where "internet addiction" is listed as a true condition, we might see some changes in that.

class factotum said...

Ah, but didn't he say he had a "sex addiction?" I know someone who lost his job (as a teacher) after being busted in a prostitution sting. He lost his marriage because his wife got sick of the internet porn, the strip clubs, and the hookers. His claim? He was a sex addict! He couldn't help it! Not his fault!

I'm glad this IBM guy hasn't gotten anywhere. It will be a sad day for our society when someone wins a claim based on such ridiculous grounds. I'm a chocolate addict! Accomodate me!

Anonymous said...

I've been following this for several years and to date, no one has been able to win a wrongful terminiation suit on the grounds of "internet addiction" because it is not defined as a psychological condition yet by the relevant body. If it ever comes to a point where "internet addiction" is listed as a true condition, we might see some changes in that.

Doesn't ADA only protect workers to the extent that their handicap doesn't interfere with their job given reasonable accommodations? Even if "internet addiction" appears in the DSM-5, someone who is online all day is probably not getting their job done.

wmstrahan said...

Pitch perfect answer EHRL. Two practical points.

Something tells me that the house mate is not the head of engineering or finance at a F 500 company. There are very low dollars at stake here. Getting a lawyer of any skill to take the case seems like it would be a long-shot. As an HR person I am going to bet my lawyer is smarter than their lawyer.

Second thought is - best advice to the house mate is go back and apologize for inappropriate use of the web site. Grow up and admit you screwed up. It does two things. It promotes personal growth - which is a good thing. It also might soften the response of the company to any requests to verify employment.

Just some thoughts.

Bill []

jaded hr rep said...

If his ego doesn't allow him to accept he was in the wrong, then at least advise him that he is likely to waste his time and money on legal fees. The only thing a lawyer can do for him (assuming all the facts and details have been presented and the lawyer hasn't already ascertained he has no case) is draft a whiny letter to the company citing his complaint and charge. The company's lawyer will send a mean response with the appropriate company policy and documentation and proof that he was surfing porn sites attached. End of story, with housemate out probably several hundred bucks.

Kevin said...

Alchoholics have limited protection under ADA (that's been established already by the courts)...crazy as it sounds. What is happening, is people are trying to get "internet addiction" treated the same was as alcoholism in regards to the protections. Personally, I think it is insane that alcoholism has any protection under ADA.