Tag Archives: honesty

Favorite Firing: Terminated for Lying About Leave

police-officer-clipart-black-and-white-nTXoX7MTBYears ago, I used to discuss employment cases I worked on with my kids at the dinner table. I didn’t use names, but I did describe the circumstances. “Don’t ever lie to your employer. You can get fired for lying,” I told them.

A recent court case from Ohio proves I’m still right. In Mattessich v. Weatherfield Township (Ohio Ct. App. Feb. 8, 2016), a police officer who had taken leave for depression was later terminated for lying about his medical leave. This is yet another “favorite firing” case involving law enforcement personnel.

The Facts: After Richard Mattessich, a police officer with the Weathersfield Township Police Department in Ohio, applied for a promotion to sergeant, he alleged that another applicant had been late to work. A video proved that Officer Mattessich’s allegations were false. The Chief of Police considered terminating Officer Mattessich at that time, but gave him a second chance. The Chief did require Officer Mattessich to undergo a psychiatric evaluation. A health care provider concluded that Mattessich needed sick leave, and he was off work for nine months.

Officer Mattessich passed a fitness-for-duty exam and returned to work. Nevertheless, others on the police force thought he lacked confidence and even seemed “dazed” and “out of it.” Officer Mattessich said he was fine and denied having any mental health counseling while on leave.

A few weeks later, his superiors learned that Officer Mattessich had in fact been treated for depression with counseling and medication. He admitted he had lied earlier about not receiving any treatment. Shortly thereafter, his employment was terminated for lying. The Chief of Police indicated that he could not trust a dishonest employee, because honesty and integrity were essential parts of the job for police officers.

Mattessich filed a disability discrimination lawsuit alleging that he had been discharged because of his mental health condition. The trial court granted summary judgment to the employer and dismissed the case, ruling that dishonesty—not disability—was the motivation behind the termination.

On February 8, 2016, the Ohio Court of Appeals upheld the termination. Although Mattessich’s “depression” was mentioned during the termination discussions, it was only mentioned because it was related to the plaintiff’s deception. There was no evidence that his mental health status was the cause of his terminaiton. Just because the employer knew about some mental health condition did not mean that any subsequent adverse decision was the result of discrimination.

The Court of Appeals found that the police department had provided a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for Officer Mattessich’s termination. It therefore became the plaintiff’s responsibility to prove that the reason was pretextual. The Court stated:

To establish pretext for a claim under the Civil Rights Act, “a plaintiff must demonstrate that the proffered reason (1) has no basis in fact, (2) did not actually motivate the employer’s challenged conduct, or (3) was insufficient to warrant the challenged conduct.”

Officer Mattessich failed to provide evidence to support pretext under any of these three categories.

One of the three judges on the Court of Appeals did dissent. She argued that the employer regarded Officer Mattessich as disabled and that there were questions of fact about the officer’s dishonesty that should have survived summary judgment.

The Moral: What I told my children is still good practice at work—do not lie to your employer.

This case involved law enforcement, where honesty is critical for the success of the police department’s work with the public and in courts. But honesty is critical in every employment relationship. Every employee owes his or her employer a duty of loyalty, which encompasses veracity. Every employer should have a policy prohibiting employees from lying to their supervisors.

And every employer should investigate allegations that an employee has lied—not only when the lies involve things as critical to the employment relationship as fitness for duty and leaves of absence.

Of course, communicating employment policies and consistency in applying those policies are critical. In this case, the Court of Appeals found that the Weathersfield Township Police Department had disciplined other officers caught committing acts of deception. So consistent application of the policy was important.

As noted above, there was a dissent in this case. These situations can go either way for the employer. The more the employer can distance the termination from the finding that the employee is disabled, and the more similar situations involving employees not in the same protected class as the discharged employee, the better the case is likely to go for the employer.

Involving Human Resources professionals and employment attorneys in these situations prior to discharging the employee is always a best practice.

But in this case, the biggest issue is that it took five years to get an appellate ruling that the employee could legitimately be discharged for dishonesty.

When have you had to deal with dishonesty in the workplace?

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Filed under Human Resources, Law, Uncategorized, Workplace

Empower Yourself with the Truth: Step Three = Recognize and Use Office Politics Positively

In my last post, I wrote about asserting your own power, with themes from Chapter 6 of Geoffrey M. Bellman’s book, Getting Things Done When You Are Not in Charge. This week, I am commenting on Chapter 7 of Bellman’s book, on the fascinating subject of corporate politics.

I once had a guy who worked for me who said he hated corporate politics. He was a direct communicator and despised people he thought spent their time positioning themselves to look good. But there is a huge difference between office politics and sucking up.

So how do we deal with corporate politics in a positive way?

1.       Recognize That Corporate Politics Are Real

The theme of this series of posts about Bellman’s book is “empowering yourself with the truth.” The truth is that any group of people is political. The words “politics” and “political” come from the Greek word for “city” or “townspeople.” Any time people gather, politics are involved.

Get over your dislike of politics. It’s real, and it’s everywhere. Bellman says

“Politics has been called the art of getting things done. . . . They are not basically good or bad; they are neutral, to do with as we will. Political goodness or badness flows from the intent and impact of our actions.” 

It’s your choice whether your involvement in corporate politics is good or bad. What are your intentions and impacts in your organization?

 2. Base Your Actions on Your Principles

As Bellman points out, being a political actor does not mean giving up your principles. In fact, here is a summary of Bellman’s steps necessary to integrate your politics with your principles:

  • Know your principles 
  • Acknowledge the reality of corporate politics
  • Recognize that you are a part of the politics in your organization
  • Understand that you will have to consider the political ramifications of what you want to get done
  • Be clear ahead of time about what you will and will not do to use politics – who you will engage to support you and how. 

If you take these steps, you can participate in the politics of your organization without feeling like you are compromising your principles. Perhaps my colleague who so disdained politics needed to think about these steps.

3. Support Healthy Behaviors in Your Organization 

Bellman’s book, written in 1992 before the age of constant email and chats, is a little dated. He prefers face to face meetings over phone calls, memos and faxes.

But his point is that relationships are important in any organization, and relationships are best built face to face. How will you foster your relationships in today’s environment? In some situations, there is no substitute for the feedback and nuances of communication you can get in a face to face meeting.

Regardless of the communications techniques you use, you should find ways to connect with others in your organization. Determine what goals you share and how you can understand each other, even if you do not always agree.

Have your perceptions of office politics changed as a result of anything you read in this post?

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Don’t Ask Permission To Succeed

This past week was a chaotic one for me in my personal life, which meant that it was a difficult professional week also.  But I read one article that made good sense to me – Don’t Ask Permission, Ladies, by Jill Flynn, Kathryn Heath and Mary Davis Holt, co-authors of Break Your Own Rules: How to Change the Patterns of Thinking That Block Women’s Paths to Power (Jossey-Bass, September 2011).

Most of the advice these authors give the women they coach on how to succeed in business rang true for me and my career:

1.  Don’t wait for permission

The authors of Break Your Own Rules say not to wait for a boss to tell you what to do.  I was never one to wait for a boss’ permission.  I typically did what I thought best in my professional life, and hoped it would work out.  Usually, it did.  In fact, the times when I got into the most trouble were when I did what someone else told me to do against my better judgment.

2.  Act like you mean it

Flynn, Heath and Holt advise that women speak honestly and directly, without qualifications.  This suggestion has never been a problem for me – I’ve always been pretty direct with people.  Maybe too direct sometimes, but I didn’t get in much trouble, because I did try to be respectful, even when talking to someone for whom I didn’t have much respect.

3.  Break a few rules

The writers of Break Your Own Rules suggest doing things your way, rather than following the rules.  This is one piece of advice that it took me many years to learn – I’ve always been a “by the book” person.  But I did get to the point in my career where I had to do things my way, because no one was giving me the kind of direction I felt I needed to advance.  The only solution was to make it up as I went along.

4.  Be the best (or best-known) at something

Flynn, Heath and Holt say to develop deep technical skills, or good sales ability, or something else that makes you unique in the workplace.  For me, being a technical expert – being a “go to” person” gave me great satisfaction.  But then I changed careers, and was at a loss on how to stand out until I developed new skills. 

Along with being best known for something, the authors of Break Your Own Rules suggest that you toot your own horn, to let people know what you are good at.  I wasn’t as skilled at that, and I was overlooked sometimes as a result.

5.  Be the dissenter

To be assertive, you also need to take opposing positions sometimes.  But you had better have your arguments lined up to support your opinion.  Along with being direct, I was able to do this reasonably well.  Sometimes, however, your superiors will not go along with your position.  You need to know when to cut your losses and decide whether you are comfortable following a course of action that isn’t your first choice.

6.  Don’t overdo it

The last point Flynn, Heath and Holt make in the portfolio.com article is to be assertive, but not aggressive.  Stand up for yourself, but don’t be mean-spirited.  I think I did all right in that regard.

What about you? Which of these pieces of advice are easy for you, and which are difficult?

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