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Washington State: Hostile Work Environment

On Lawyer & Legal » Employment & Labor Law

8,685 words with 15 Comments; publish: Thu, 10 Dec 2009 22:15:00 GMT; (800234.38, « »)

Thanks in advance for any responses you can give. I'll try to summarize the facts without getting too wordy. Please ask if you need clarification.

Employee (female, about 47 years old) had adequate performance up until about 2 years ago.

Since then, she is negative and speaking badly of her supervisor to other employees and customers.

Supervisor never noted any deficiencies or warnings in employee file. Last performance eval in file was 2007. Everything in file is 'positive' to that point.

Performance declined in 07 and 08, with errors in her work serious enough to warrant her first marginal eval recently, as well as no raise, which she always received before.

Employee is salaried, exempt, but only puts in about 25 hours of actual work per week, with frequent trips out of the office daily totalling about 3 hours a day including lunch.

Recently she was discovered doing questionable transactions that weren't against any written policy but were inappropriate at the least. She was warned in writing.

Now, it has been discovered that she has been ordering personal items through the company for at least 6 months, billed to the company, with payment due by invoice within 30 days. She would receive these personal items, enjoy the terms of the invoice and pay the bill herself at 30 days rather than submitting to Accounts Payable.

She has heard that her supervisor is looking to fire her, and has made it known to several that she plans to not go down without a fight, citing hostile work environment. He 'basis' is that her boss recently hired his wife's cousin as his Secretary. There is currently no policy against this, although in my opinion it is questionable. She and the boss openly do not get along, and feels threatened that a family member is his assistant.

Can she possibly have any basis for a fight??? Thanks again...Bob

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  • 15 Comments
    • Sometimes you have no choice but to terminate an employee.
      #1; Tue, 15 Dec 2009 08:44:00 GMT
    • What I'd do with the facts you shared is to put in writing to her that ordering personal items via the company needs to cease immediately. Period. Make it a final warning. Any instances of future inappropriate ordering will be grounds for immediate termination. I would also include in the warning that no contract or guarantee of employment is implied or stated and she may still be terminated at any time for any reason at the descretion of the company (basically an at-will clause). It puts her on notice that the behavior must stop and lets her know she is skating on thin ice.

      I would also document or have whomever she told document the conversation about the cousin as secretary and the "threat" of filing a suit over it. That way if she does come back and try to claim a HWE you have what the actual complaint was and who was told. As the others have said, it is not even close to illegal to hire a spouse's cousin.

      #2; Wed, 16 Dec 2009 10:21:00 GMT
    • Another option you have is to give her 1-3 mos of severance pay, agree not to protest her UI, and have her sign a global employment release.

      Yes, it goes against every fiber of my being to reward bad employees or troublemakers, but in the long run, it is a very inexpensive solution to a long and protracted lawsuit.

      Just a thought.

      #3; Tue, 15 Dec 2009 12:34:00 GMT
    • I would think all employers would like to avoid a lawsuit if possible.
      #4; Wed, 16 Dec 2009 05:23:00 GMT
    • Really awesome input. Unbelievably helpful. Wow. You've outdone yourself.

      To everyone else, thanks for the responses. I appreciate the advice. Our company is one of the few of it's type that are still profitable in the state and our constant vigilance has helped it remain that way. By weeding out the employees that are detrimental to our performance and quite possibly your financial well being if you live in the state, we feel that we are doing our job of keeping the company from becoming a 'tire fire'. Thanks again.

      Sorry, man. But if you're looking to weed out the employees that you hired, that's on you. Sounds like you've made a lot of bad business decisions in hiring. Sounds like a management problem to me. You need to give your employees the tools to succeed if you want to be a successful manager. Looks to me that you gave them the tools to fail.

      #5; Tue, 15 Dec 2009 21:33:00 GMT
    • Thank you for the replies so far. To give some more context, I am a supervisor of another department and privy to all employee issues, as well as an owner of the company (minority shareholder)...my concern is that this go away without this affecting me financially as in prolonged lawsuit to the company that employs me and is essentially my retirement. She knows that we are looking for ways to oust her and is planning a fight. My thought is to remove her authorities, demote her, and let her implode on her own over time. Not sure if that's necessary though if there is no real harm in letting her go.
      #6; Fri, 11 Dec 2009 07:23:00 GMT
    • it sounds like your company is an absolute tire fire. Spend more time planning on making your company successful than planning your employees' demise.

      Little harsh, don't you think?

      #7; Tue, 15 Dec 2009 05:27:00 GMT
    • Thank you for the replies so far. To give some more context, I am a supervisor of another department and privy to all employee issues, as well as an owner of the company (minority shareholder)...my concern is that this go away without this affecting me financially as in prolonged lawsuit to the company that employs me and is essentially my retirement. She knows that we are looking for ways to oust her and is planning a fight. My thought is to remove her authorities, demote her, and let her implode on her own over time. Not sure if that's necessary though if there is no real harm in letting her go.

      I'm not a legal contributor to this site and mostly ask questions because I don't know too much, and you probably don't want opinions, but it sounds like your company is an absolute tire fire. Spend more time planning on making your company successful than planning your employees' demise.

      #8; Mon, 14 Dec 2009 21:51:00 GMT
    • BTW--for posters who do not do business in WA state, let me tell you they have their own special quirks. And that is putting it nicely. I have substantial operations in both CA and WA and in some cases (w/c and UI) Washington is SO EMPLOYEE FRIENDLY!!!! it makes it almost impossible for a business to run profitably.

      I would rather do w/c and UI in CA. (Their w/c system is insane!)

      I would rather do meal periods/breaks in WA

      One final thought--we all hire "bad" employees. We don't do it on purpose. Sometimes it is a bad interview process, sometimes out of desperation, sometimes trying to do someone a favor. We all do it. The credit to an HR dept and the organization is how they deal with that employee. Credit to Bob--he can see what is coming and is trying to resolve it with as little disruption to his organization as possible. Good luck.

      #9; Wed, 16 Dec 2009 08:20:00 GMT
    • Of course, Bob is trying to avoid a lawsuit, Bob would not be a prudent manager if he didn't. Second-guessing the actions of the employer in this case was not helpful.
      #10; Wed, 16 Dec 2009 05:10:00 GMT
    • No. If all the facts you have provided are accurate and if you have provided all the facts, she has no basis for an HWE claim.
      #11; Thu, 10 Dec 2009 22:17:00 GMT
    • Little harsh, don't you think?

      Didn't think so. Sometimes love is tough. When you admit the following... "She knows that we are looking for ways to oust her," that company seems like a mess. Just oust her if you want. Why do you have to look for a reason? Bob is trying to avoid a lawsuit, in my opinion.

      #12; Tue, 15 Dec 2009 21:44:00 GMT
    • You're welcome.
      #13; Tue, 15 Dec 2009 21:11:00 GMT
    • Workplace nepotism is not unusual & not illegal in private sector employment as long as discrimination doesn't come into play. (ie employer hiring all male relatives - might be case for gender discrim.) Re public sector employment some city councils and counties have passed anti-nepotism laws.

      However; based on what you posted, I see no HWE or illegal discrimination.

      #14; Thu, 10 Dec 2009 23:14:00 GMT
    • I'm not a legal contributor to this site and mostly ask questions because I don't know too much, and you probably don't want opinions, but it sounds like your company is an absolute tire fire. Spend more time planning on making your company successful than planning your employees' demise.

      Really awesome input. Unbelievably helpful. Wow. You've outdone yourself.

      To everyone else, thanks for the responses. I appreciate the advice. Our company is one of the few of it's type that are still profitable in the state and our constant vigilance has helped it remain that way. By weeding out the employees that are detrimental to our performance and quite possibly your financial well being if you live in the state, we feel that we are doing our job of keeping the company from becoming a 'tire fire'. Thanks again.

      #15; Tue, 15 Dec 2009 20:38:00 GMT