We’ve all heard of employees being fired for performing poorly or engaging in illegal activities at work. But being axed for changing clothes in the workplace? Logging on to Facebook while at work? Charging your cell phone in the office? Writing your office correspondence in ALL CAPS?
Believe it or not, these and other unusual reasons have been used to justify giving employees the boot. Some of them do hold up in court. But even the most outrageous employee behavior does not guarantee that a company won’t be hit by a wrongful termination suit — and lose the case.
Think before you post
People sometimes forget that social media is more for socials and not for work. Take the case of this female candidate who was offered a job at Cisco. The newly hired employee went on social media to post a snarky tweet about weighing having a “fatty paycheck” versus hating the job. Funny it didn’t occur to her that a tech conglomerate like Cisco keeps an eye on Twitter. Suddenly she found herself without a job again. The tweet sender, infamously dubbed “Cisco Fatty,” has since clarified that it wasn’t a job but a summer internship. She also claimed that she declined the internship even before she snark posted. Still, what happened to Cisco Fatty is a classic lesson for employees on how not to use Twitter.
The case for lowering your cases
Vicki Walker, a New Zealand accountant, used uppercase letters, bold typeface, and red-colored text in her emails. Her co-workers and the unfortunate recipients of her correspondences found them abrasive and tiring to the eyes. Eventually, Ms. Walker was fired for writing emails in ALL CAPS.
She fought back and won her case. Now she’s considering getting further compensation from her former employer. Maybe when she outlines her case via email, she should stick to regular Arial font, size 10, in black.
The naked truth
A waitress who will go by the pseudonym of Sheila wasn’t a stellar employee given her spotty attendance record and her anger management issues. One day, she came in for work at exactly 6:00 a.m., the start of her shift. As soon as she entered the front door of the restaurant, her manager accosted her and accused her of being late — Sheila should have been in uniform and ready to serve the customers at 6:00 a.m. Undeterred, Sheila stripped off her clothes and donned her uniform in full view of coworkers, patrons, and even passersby (the restaurant’s front door was glass). That’s when her manager fired her.
You’d think this would be an open-and-shut case in favor of her employer, but no. Apparently, Sheila and the other members of the restaurant staff were not above being physically playful at work, and now she was going to use that to her advantage.
Sheila complained to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), accusing her employer of maintaining a hostile work environment full of unwelcome sexual advances from coworkers. She claimed she was fired not because of her morning striptease but because she complained of sexual harassment at work. Curiously, there were no documents to show that Sheila complained at all. Still, the EEOC latched on to the idea that her workplace had a “sexually charged atmosphere” and launched an investigation.
Current and former employees recounted stories of sexual harassment in the workplace to the EEOC. The restaurant owners suddenly found themselves facing a “pattern and practice” lawsuit that could bankrupt their business. They decided to settle with Sheila and the other employees instead.
When it comes to the workplace, it’s best to discourage sexual behavior of any kind, even so-called playful ones. Experienced lawyers will tell you that the ones who do are most likely to also complain of being sexually harassed. And just because no employee is complaining doesn’t mean there are no harassment incidents in your workplace. Best that you find out about it first than have the EEOC uncover the truth.
Guilty as charged?
When this German employee was fired from his company in Oberhausen, the reason for his termination may have shocked him. He was dismissed because of electricity theft. His so-called crime? Charging his mobile phone in the office.
The courts ruled his dismissal as unlawful, given that the amount he “stole” was merely a fraction of a cent. Who knew charging your phone could result in charges of theft?
Cooper vs. Cooper
In May 2020, Amy Cooper suddenly found herself in the middle of a heated national issue. Here’s a quick recap: Amy falsely accused Christian Cooper (not related), a Black bird-watcher, of threatening her and her dog when he asked her to leash her pet as per Central Park rules. Instead of complying, she called the police, and repeatedly emphasized that she was being threatened by an African American. Unfortunately for her, Christian recorded the incident on his phone.
After the video went viral, Amy was first suspended, then eventually fired, by her employer. Investment firm Franklin Templeton released a statement on Twitter: “We do not tolerate racism of any kind at Franklin Templeton.”
Now Amy Cooper has filed a lawsuit accusing her employer of racial and gender discrimination. She claims that Franklin Templeton failed to do a thorough investigation of the park incident and said the firm fired her because she is a white woman.
The firm is standing by their decision. Other legal experts think her wrongful termination case is weak. Meanwhile, the other Cooper expressed empathy for Amy. Christian said what she did was “pretty crappy without a doubt” but expressed concern that the consequences of her actions may not be “really proportionate.” Which is a good reminder that with such racially charged cases, not everything is black and white.
Termination cases are particularly tricky. If you encounter a difficult legal situation in the workplace due to a personal injury case in Washington state, then schedule a meeting with our attorneys at Buckingham, LaGrandeur, & Williams.