248-409-1900 dburke@mi-worklaw.com

By:  Dan Cohen

     How many times did your parents praise you for a good deed? And how many times have we, in turn, encouraged our own kids to do a good deed? Random acts of kindness are good for the soul and are important to society. When our kids hold doors open for others, pick up a piece of trash, give their seat up for another, or help push a neighbor’s car out of a snow bank, others take notice. “What a nice young man” people say. “You didn’t have to” say others.

     In my world of employment and labor law, an employer’s good deeds do not go unnoticed either. Unfortunately, they tend to be noticed by employees looking to take advantage of a situation. Business owners and human resource directors, who have worked with me over the years, have probably heard me tell them not just once that “no good deed goes unpunished.”

     Let’s take a simple example: One of your employees comes to you, down on his luck, his wife just lost her job. Worse, his wife had recently injured her knee skiing and was scheduled for reconstructive knee surgery. Your employee asks to take time off work to comfort his wife and tend to the kids while his wife recuperates from surgery. You naturally feel bad for your employee and approve his time off. You are concerned that your employee has exhausted his PTO days and will really struggle financially given the loss of both incomes. You decide to continue his salary, and when you notify your employee, he is grateful, and you feel really good about your decision.

     When your employee returns to work three weeks later, news of your compassion spreads like wildfire. Over the next several weeks, you receive requests for time off from others who have also exhausted their PTO days. You are now faced with a conundrum: Do you continue their pay as well or do you explain that you view their situations differently and you are not inclined to continue their pay? Of course, your decision could place your business at risk if the “other employees” are in protected classifications, and prepared to make a claim of disparate treatment.

     So the next time you want to do a good deed at work, you must evaluate how it is going to be used against you. In today’s litigious society, employers should resist the temptation to deviate from their policies to help an employee out in such situations. Others are watching and looking for opportunities to exploit your generosity. So, remember when it comes to your business, leave your good deeds at the door when you arrive at work and stick to the published rules and policies.