Lynne Curry: Skiing accident takes out a worker

THE WORKPLACEFebruary 2, 2014 

Q. One of our employees got hurt in a skiing accident. For the next four months he won't be able to work a full schedule. He's now in a cast and leaves every day after five or six hours of work, saying he hurts too bad to keep going. He may have to have surgery, leaving him completely off work for at least a week and on crutches for several weeks after that.

Our company only employs seven individuals. We can't afford the overload on others resulting from carrying a part-time worker. This guy was also a marginal worker before the accident. This morning we told him we had to let him go and he said his doctor told him he had protection. This isn't a disability issue, is it, because he'll be OK in just a couple months? Also, he created this problem.

A. You take two risks if you fire him.

First, his co-workers may feel you're kicking a guy when he's down. They may also wonder if you'd fire them if they had an accident.

Second, he may qualify for Americans with Disabilities Act as Amended (ADAAA) protection. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that "although impairments that last only for a short period of time are typically not covered, they may be covered if sufficiently severe." That case involved an employee who needed surgery, physical therapy and seven months to recover from a broken leg.

Another temporary disability case involved a welder fired in 2013. The welder's elevated blood pressure created intermittent vision loss and his foreman fired him when he left to go to the hospital after his right eye turned red. The Appeals Court found for the welder, stating that the disability act protects employees with life activity impairment even when their impairments are "transitory and minor" or episodic.

Q. Our construction company lost two lawsuits last year, one for sexual harassment and the other for race discrimination. As a result, I got hired and am the first human resources officer they've ever had.

The superintendents and project managers think it's ridiculous that I've been hired. Their favorite comment is: "What do you know about construction?" whenever I talk with them about something they need to do differently.

I have to hire two project managers. This is new for me but I hesitate to ask the superintendents questions and prove how stupid I am. I know enough to ask for a PM who has experience on jobs of at least $15 million but other than that I need effective screening questions.

A. If you try to get by without asking your superintendents questions, you'll prove you don't know much. Smart people ask questions.

Instead of trying to fake it, win your superintendents' respect by asking them what they want in a good PM and what sets the best project managers apart from mediocre ones. Use their answers to frame probing questions.

Next, because PMs serious about professional development keep a lessons-learned document, ask each applicant for a redacted copy so you can get a sense of whether they write clearly and concisely. Because you want an honest PM, notice whether your candidates include specifics about what they personally needed to learn in the document.

Ask each candidate, "What's most important to you as a PM, finishing a project on time or within scope and budget?" Seasoned PMs acknowledge that they prioritize among the three variables based on what matters most to their clients while inexperienced PMs say all three have equal importance.

Additionally, ask each candidate whether he included reference information for his last project's sponsor. If not, find out why. The project sponsor often gives you the truth you need about your candidate's job performance.

Finally, construction superintendents value results. If you hire the right PMs, you'll prove you know more than they thought.

Dr. Lynne Curry is a management/employee trainer and owner of the consulting firm The Growth Company Inc. Send your questions to her at lynne@thegrowthcompany.com. You can follow her on Twitter @lynnecurry10 or through www.workplacecoachblog.com.

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