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HR Esq

Don't GOMER Your Employees-- or the Next Lawsuit Could Be Your Fault!

Devora Lindeman
Contributor: Devora Lindeman
Posted: 06/08/2011

HR partners need to ensure that managers don’t treat their employees the way that some emergency rooms treat patients. When the evening gets late, some ER staff get frazzled and an annoying patient becomes a GOMER (which stands for "Get Out of My Emergency Room")!

I was reminded of this recently when a very ill patient arrived in the ER by ambulance. The ER doc "fixed him right up," and was about to send him home without getting a full medical history or knowing about a serious underlying medical condition—despite the patient trying to relay this vital information. When a doctor who was familiar with this patient, and having all the information he needed to make intelligent decisions, arrived on the scene, he not only stopped the patient from being GOMER’d, but this wise doctor admitted the patient directly to the ICU for the appropriate and necessary medical care.

This can happen in the workplace when deadlines are looming, customers are upset, or there are just not enough hours in the day. In other words—on any ordinary day. Managers often don’t want to be bothered about employee complaints in any event, let alone when they are putting out yet another fire. It is HR’s job, however, to ensure that your managers understand the legal risks to the company when managers: (a) ignore complaints, (b) don’t get back to employees, (c) don’t pass on potential legal complaints to HR or (d) otherwise make employees feel that the company does not care and is not listening.

In essence, these managers are fomenting lawsuits waiting to happen by telling the employees to Get Out of My Office—and don’t come back without that (report, information, project completed, etc., etc.). When companies come to us with employee employment discrimination claims, we too often see a lawsuit that could have been avoided had the manager who received the first email, or first hint of a complaint, bothered to respond properly and with a modicum of care or concern.

This usually happens most in harassment cases, where an employee finally has the nerve to mention to a manager that Roger is bothering her and the manager asks no follow up questions to determine what she means. Instead, the manager makes a comment about no longer being in kindergarten and turns the conversation to the latest production crisis. The employee, feeling ignored and unsafe, may fester until Roger does something really dumb. Then, not only will the company be slapped with a sexual harassment lawsuit, but one of the allegations will be that the employee told her manager, but he ignored her, ignored the company’s harassment policy (presuming it had one), and allowed a situation to persist under his nose that he was responsible for stopping.

Don’t let your managers GOMER your employees. It’s not just HR who needs to be trained in handling employee complaints and learning to identify the lurking legal claims. Companies would be prudent to invest in management training to ensure that none of their managers make these mistakes that can embroil the company in costly lawsuits. This may seem like simple, or even obvious, advice – but you’d be surprised how often it is ignored.

Devora Lindeman
Contributor: Devora Lindeman
Posted: 06/08/2011