WHAT I WOULDN'T DO: Legal Updates from HR's Trenches: Lessons from America's worst employers of 2021.

AuthorHyman, Jon

Employees should never be given a free pass because they're "the boss" or a "high performer." The law certainly won't give you a pass for excusing their behavior.

For each of the past five years, I've gathered examples of greed, discrimination, mistreatment, abuse and general awfulness from the workplace. I've compiled them in a list and asked America to vote on the Worst Employer of the Year. Like the years before it, 2021's crop of nominees was a bumper one, and each nominee offers a lesson for businesses.

Here are last year's top (or bottom, depending on your perspective) nominees, counted down from 8 to 1, along with a key lesson you can learn from their misbehavior:

Auto shop pays former employee his final wages by leaving 91,500 oil-coated pennies in his driveway, and then posts on its website about teaching the worker a lesson for complaining about his pay.

The lesson: There is nothing technically illegal about paying an employee in pennies. Legal tender is legal tender. But being a jerk is still being a jerk. It's also gotten this employer in hot water with the Department of Labor (see case update, page 3). As is often the case, an employer wins the battle over the underlying conduct but loses the war over the subsequent retaliation.

Employee sings an inappropriate song about menstruation and keeps his job after stalking a complaining female co-worker.

The lesson: Stalking is criminal. Criminals who use their jobs to commit their crimes should not keep their jobs. Employers who think differently belong on this list.

Bakery threatens to deport any undocumented workers who support the union during an organizing campaign.

The lesson: Unless you want to buy yourself an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board, avoid threatening pro-union employees. Also, how about we don't knowingly hire undocumented workers?

CEO downsizes and fires 909 employees 18 days before Christmas over a Zoom call, and within days of the company receiving a three-quarters-of-a-billion-dollar cash infusion.

The lesson: There is no event more traumatic for an employee than termination. These individuals deserve a face-to-face discussion. At all costs, avoid firing by a letter, phone call (or, worse, voice mail), email, text message, Facebook post, Tweet or any other not-in-person communication, including Zoom. In the world of COVID and...

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