Thursday, March 19, 2009

Odd employees have a place – just maybe not in your workplace

I spent my summer between high school and college unloading trucks in a fabric warehouse. During my first week of work, one of my co-workers asked me if “Harlan” had gotten to me yet. As it turned out, Harlan was the warehouse joke. He held some strange ideas, and would take a stab at indoctrinating each new employee. Sure enough, later that same day Harlan cornered me and let me in on his view of the world – that a small cluster of Freemasons ruled the world from a secret office on the 36th floor of Rockefeller Center, that Lee Iacocca saved Chrysler by making a pact with Satan, and that the Israeli government would start the apocalypse by 2004.

I hadn’t thought about Harlan in years, but was reminded of him a few days ago when I came across Lizalek v. Invivio Corp. (7th Cir. 3/16/09):

Gary Lizalek’s religious beliefs make for a complicated identity. As a matter of faith, he understands himself to be three separate beings: (1) GARY C LIZALEK, “a trust that was created by the Social Security Administration … to generate assets for its beneficiary, the United States Government”; (2) Gary C. Lizalek, Trustee; and (3) Gary C. Lizalek, Steward, who “lends … consciousness and physical abilities to said Trust.” His employer asked that he stick with a single identity for professional purposes, but Lizalek refused. Shortly thereafter he was terminated. The district court held that this decision broke no law, and we affirm.

I could profoundly write about how a diligent background check could have revealed this employee’s oddities before he was hired, or about Title VII’s obligations to reasonably accommodate sincerely held religious beliefs unless it poses an undue hardship.

Instead, I’ll simply leave you with this thought. Most workplaces have someone like this employee. It’s up to you to figure out if this type of personality is the right fit for your business. Invivio hired him to deal with customers, and felt uncomfortable with him having that role in light of his bizarre behavior. Harlan was cutting fabric in a warehouse, and management did not mind his weird worldview, even if it sometimes distracted his co-workers. Every employee won’t be the right fit for every job; it’s management’s prerogative to weed out those employees that aren’t the right match for the particular business or position.

[Hat tip: Daily Developments in EEO Law]

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