Here’s a jaw-dropping employment dispute: a diabetic Walgreens employee on the verge of a seizure was recently fired for eating a bag of chips to ward off a hypoglycemic seizure. The on-duty employee paid for the $1.39 bag shortly thereafter, but was fired from her job under the zero-tolerance policy for shoplifting.
Walgreens has been slapped with suits from both the woman and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for failing to accommodate an employee with a disability. The incident will undoubtedly come at a great cost for Walgreens. While their employment practices liability insurance (EPLI)will cover the settlement, they will feel the hit to their reputation and employee morale.
HR professionals know they need to comply with employment laws, but when you introduce the human element, staying out of hot water isn’t always easy. While we can only speculate as to what went wrong with the Walgreen’s case, it’s often the knee-jerk responses of managers that lead to the inappropriate job actions that wind up as lawsuits. When managers act on emotion in the heat of the moment or rigidly apply policies where an employee's disability requires an accommodation, employment laws are often overlooked.
No company ever expects to be involved in an employment dispute, but if a large employer with a full HR staff can have this happen to them, it can easily happen to the employer whose CFO, receptionist or safety director also is "learning on the job" in their newly absorbed HR job.
With employee complaints at an all time high, this is an important time to take steps to protect your business from risk in this area. Are you prepared to handle employment disputes?