January 12, 2024

When HR Gets Thrown (or Throws Itself) Under the Bus

Who fires employees in your company? Managers or HR? Who has the ultimate authority to grant requests for a leave of absence or a reasonable accommodation? Managers or HR? I generally recommend the answer be the former. If an employee feels they have been treated unfairly by the manager, they can go to HR to express a concern. But if they feel HR is the one who was unfair, where is the employee going to go? Most likely to a federal, state, local agency, or a plaintiff’s attorney. Here’s an example:

An employee takes sick leave at her doctor’s recommendation (bladder infection and pregnancy). The employee tells her manager she is ready to return to work and will need a reasonable accommodation (a rest room break up to once per hour and access to drink water).  The manager replies (look out, here comes the bus…), “It’s not up to us, it’s up to [the HR Manager]. The doctor gave you an accommodation and it is her decision. She has never accommodated anyone.”

The next day, the employee called the manager to check on the status of her accommodation request. The manager tells the employee she has “bad news.” The HR Manager would not accommodate the employee; the employee was going to be put on a leave of absence; and the employee should apply for short-term disability benefits.

Six months later, after the STD benefits ran out and the employee had just given birth to her child, she was fired. Did she go to HR to express her concern? Nope.  She filed a charge with the EEOC, and subsequently filed this lawsuit.

How does the story end? We do know that the case settled for an undisclosed amount of money.

Lesson Learned? I do not know if the outcome would have been different if the manager had denied the employee’s request for accommodation (with HR sitting in on that conversation) and if the manager had explained to the employee that they could no longer hold her job after six months.  But it could have had a different ending. The employee might have gone to HR and expressed her concerns. Even if the answers remained the same, HR and the employee would have had a chance to talk about why they could not provide what the employee needed.