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Tiffanny Brosnan, partner at Snell & Wilmer LLP  

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Don't hire a future plaintiff
Spot a future plaintiff in your midst
I last wrote about ways to avoid hiring future plaintiffs. But sometimes they slip through the cracks, no matter how good your Future Plaintiff Radar may be. So, how do you spot the future plaintiff (the “F.P.”) who has already infiltrated your work force? Again, these tips come from getting to know hundreds of plaintiffs.

1) The F.P. whines – a lot. The whining is often about change. Changes in policies and practices, changes in his or her reporting structure, changes in his or her duties, changes in pay.

2) Life is not “fair” to the F.P. The F.P. compares him or herself to others and always ends up the victim. For example: “My sales numbers are low because you assigned the better territory to Mark.” This is often the subject of the whining mentioned above.  

3) The F.P. “documents.”* He or she will always ask for things in writing and shun face-to-face meetings. I was stunned to learn, in one case, that co-workers and managers for years had been aware of an employee who kept a little notebook where he scribbled every insult and indignity he believed he suffered at work. When he transitioned from F.P. to actual plaintiff status he naturally produced the now very thick notebook as evidence.

*A strange corollary to this documenting habit is that the F.P. often refuses to sign documents you give him, such as written warnings.

4) People don’t like the F.P. Sounds petty, but it’s true. Factors one through three lead to a person who is difficult to be around. Supervisors have trouble managing this individual and co-workers have trouble working alongside of him or her.

One of my favorite personnel management quotes is this: “Remember: You do not have a master’s degree in personality restructuring, and your company is not receiving any federal funds enabling you to profit from ministering to the employment needs of the chronically unhappy.” It’s from “No Fluff, No Puff: Just Management and Communication Principles that Work” by Jim Cronin. It describes the F.P. – the chronically unhappy individual who is in need of personality restructuring.

Now, you will be able to spot the F.P. Next time, I will tell you how best to get rid of him or her.