Strange Workfellows

December 1, 2008 ( - The workplace makes for some interesting stories. As we exit 2008, let's look back at some of the oddest workplace stories during the year.

Female Problems

Cassandra Johnson presented significant evidence to a federal court that the requirement to urinate off the back of the crane had a disparate impact on female employees. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio ruled that Johnson could go forward with her discrimination suit. The court said that “given the obvious anatomical and biological differences between men and women, and the unique hygienic needs of women, … the practice of requiring women to urinate off the side of a crane in lieu of restroom breaks, if true, would have a significant discriminatory impact on women.” (See When You Gotta Go… Court Finds Restroom Break Policy Discriminatory ).

Tamara Klopfenstein argued that she was the subject of a hostile work environment because she was “compelled to perform servile tasks for her male supervisors,” including being asked to serve coffee to her male supervisors. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania determined Klopfenstein was not a victim of gender discrimination. U.S. Judge Berle M. Schiller wrote: “The act of getting coffee is not, by itself, a gender-specific act.” The court conceded that in the context of other indicators of sexism, getting coffee could be evidence of a discriminatory intent, but it found the record did not show any other indicators of sexism (See Getting Coffee for the Boss not a Gender-Specific Job ).

Results of a survey from a UK legal advisory firm shows more than three-quarters (76%) of bosses would not hire a female if they knew she would become pregnant within six months of starting the job. The Liverpool Daily Post reports that the survey commissioned by Manchester-based Employment Law Advisory Services (ELAS) found that, during the selection process, 52% of respondents will weigh the chances of a candidate getting pregnant, taking into account age and whether they have just got married. (See UK Survey Suggests Baby-making Potential Hurts Interviewees ).

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that disabilities that impair the ability to have sex are covered under the Rehabilitation Act, the anti-discrimination law for federal employees. According to the Legal Times, the appellate court reversed a district court's dismissal of attorney Kathy Adams' claim that the State Department discriminated against her by denying her medical clearance to serve in the Foreign Service after a bout with breast cancer. The district court dismissed the claim saying the episode of cancer did not qualify as a disability because it was not long-term or permanent.

However, the D.C. Circuit said Adams' history of cancer did qualify as a disability if she could show it continued to limit a major life activity. Adams declared that the experience, which resulted in a mastectomy and removal of her fallopian tubes and ovaries, had "crippled indefinitely and perhaps permanently" her ability to enter into romantic relationships. (See Sexual Impairment Covered under Federal Employee Discrimination Law ).

The representative for a straight worker at a gay club in the U.K. has successfully used a sexual orientation anti-discrimination law to win a lawsuit for her client. According to the UK's The Times, Sharon Legg, who worked on the door at Dreams in Bournemouth, and who is a married mother of three, was awarded £3,000 in compensation for being harassed for being "straight," and a further £3,222 for being unfairly dismissed. Legg told an employment tribunal she was frequently subjected to abuse because she is not a lesbian. (See Straight Worker at Gay Club in UK Wins Discrimination Case ).

A retired British schoolteacher's claim that his baldness is a disability was rejected. BBC News reports that an employment tribunal judge in his ruling said if baldness was regarded as an impairment, then so too would features such a big nose, big ears, or shortness have to be considered impairments under the Disability Discrimination Act. James Campbell, formerly an art teacher at Denny High School in Stirlingshire, claimed his baldness had a "substantial and long term adverse effect" on his ability to do his job, and prevented him from having confidence to do his job. He said he avoided corridors at school and left school later than students to avoid having them call him "baldy." (See Teacher Claims Baldness was a "Hairy" Experience in Classroom ).

A new report indicates that the current trend towards banning personal Internet use in the workplace could be costing British businesses up to £4 billion every year due to a resulting decline in staff productivity. In a press release, PopCap Games suggests that online breaks do not distract employees, but instead serve to reduce stress and sharpen and refocus the mind. It found that if bosses actively encouraged employees to take one ten minute e-break in the working day, employees' overall productivity levels would increase, according to the press release.(See Tea, Cigarette, or Internet Use - Which Break is Best? ).

Bad bosses can be bad for your health. A Swedish study has found a link between managerial leadership and heart disease among men. According to the study, of the 3,122 Swedish male employees tracked during a 9.7-year period, 74 had heart attacks or angina, in some cases fatally. Managerial behaviors were evaluated, and the study found a higher leadership score was associated with lower heart disease risk. The study said this inverse relation between leadership behavior and heart disease risk was more pronounced the longer the employee had worked in the same workplace. (See Do You Have a "Killer" Boss? ).

Employee drug use is relative. A state of Ohio appellate court has thrown out a decision by the Industrial Commission of Ohio denying an employee who tested positive for cocaine temporary total disability compensation. The 10th District Court of Appeals issued the ruling in a case involving Alice M. Bogan, an employee at the Tomasco Mulciber auto manufacturing plant in Columbus, Ohio, who had been on Family Medical Leave Act absence. According to the appellate court decision Bogan only went to the plant on the day of the positive drug test to drop off paperwork from her doctor relating to her work restrictions. "She was not working or reporting for work," the appellate judges asserted. (See Worker's Positive Drug Test not Grounds for Benefits Denial ).