- A manager was fired for using manipulative and coercive tactics with his employees, not because of illegal bias or retaliation following his leave for cancer treatment, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has determined (Williams v. Graphic Packaging International, Inc., No. 18-5485 (6th Cir. Oct. 31, 2019)).
- When Randy Williams went on leave for prostate cancer treatment, company leadership became aware of numerous accusations against him concerning inappropriate treatment of employees. Williams allegedly humiliated his subordinates, berated them in front of other employees and discouraged them from speaking with plant management. When HR reached out, Williams admitted that he had cheated on a mandatory safety test and spread a rumor about his boss. Williams also conceded that he had not exhibited the company's core values of integrity, respect, accountability, relationships and teamwork. He was fired shortly after returning from leave.
- Because Williams "conceded that he engaged in many of the behaviors that clearly violated Graphic Packaging’s Core Values" and failed to show that his employer's reason for his termination was mere pretext, the 6th Circuit upheld a district court's summary judgment for the employer.
A termination or other adverse action that closely follows protected activity — such as a leave protected by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) — can be a red flag for illegal bias or discrimination. But employers also must take care to enforce policies and dole out discipline evenly. The key here is ensuring that adverse actions are legally justified and backed up by solid documentation, experts say.
A workplace culture that encourages open communication, including complaints, can help ensure that problematic behaviors (including manager misconduct and bullying) don't fester. In this case, Williams had strong performance evaluations for meeting and exceeding production goals, but the floodgates opened with complaints about his managerial performance as soon as he went on leave.
In a recent poll from Monster, 90% of professionals said they were bullied at work at some point, and more than half of respondents said they were bullied by a superior. To combat such situations, HR can implement and enforce consequences for unacceptable behavior, promptly and thoroughly investigate all complaints, and provide training to all levels of the organization.