Ok, You Delivered the News, Now Shut Up.

by Michael Haberman on July 17, 2012 · 1 comment


Jeff Nowak of FMLA Insights wrote about a FMLA case that you have to read to believe. It is the case of a woman who was taking FMLA for her personal health condition. Simple enough, but the company just made things worse by saying things they should not have. One of the points was that HR delivered bad news but could not shut up and made the company’s situation more difficult to defend when the employee sued under FMLA.

Here is a quick run-down of the case.

  1. Long-term, well performing employee that informs employer that she needs to take FMLA for a hysterectomy. Told by her supervisor that it is not good time to take leave and she should read the book “No More Hysterectomies.”
  2. While on leave the employee finds out her domestic partner has cancer. While still on leave HR contacts her and tells her she is being RIFed because of the loss of a big piece of business. Bad news, but then HR tells her it was probably a “blessing in disguise” since she probably would not be able to give her job 100% of her attention.
  3. The company was not consistent in how they apparently selected who was being let go, so it had the appearance that they had engage in selection processes that had adverse impact.

All three of these points warrant some comment. Nowak does a good job so I am referring you to his analysis. I did want to make my comments on the second point. The HR person who called the employee did so to inform the employee that she did not have a job to return to after her leave was over. The conversation should have ended right there. Bad news delivered, here is what will happen, end of conversation. But the HR person (probably out of an over-abundance of being nice) continues and suggests that the termination was probably a blessing-in-disguise and it would allow her the opportunity to take care of her ill partner, AND should probably not be able to devote her attention to the job. Big mistake! What did the employee hear? “You are not going to be able to do your job completely so that is why we selected you to let go!”

Far too often supervisors and HR people get “diarrhea of the mouth” and say far too much and none of it is ever good. I have seen it in many terminations. The rule is DELIVER THE BAD NEWS AND THEN SHUT UP. Keep bad news situations short and to the point. Stay away from judgments, personality traits, or advice. State the business reasons for what is being done and the steps needed to accomplish what is being done. By trying to “soft-sell” what is being done you only run the risk of getting the company in trouble.

Well that is my “heartless “ approach. What do you do? Do you agree or you disagree?

Here is Nowak’s article, I would read it. Click Here

 

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Greg July 18, 2012 at 8:27 am

Mike,
Great reminder. Folks generally want to be helpful but an axiom I have lived by particularly in HR is “No good deed goes unpunished”.

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