We occasionally report workplace behavior that’s so odd that it sounds made up. Except it’s not. Today’s story: A company fires a single mother after she stays home a day to care for a child with a contagious disease. And it’s even worse than it sounds.
The story is compiled from court documents and reports in the Chicago Tribune and Inc. magazine.
Now, don’t get us wrong. We fully believe that employers have the right to fire under-performing employees who don’t follow the rules. After all, business is business.
But the case of Dena Lockwood, a 39-year-old single mother of two, seems a bit outside the boundaries of a run-of-the-mill termination (and the Chicago Human Rights Commission thought so, too, as we’ll see).
Lockwood applied for a sales position in 2004 with Professional Neurological Services, a Chicago-area company that sells medical tests to doctors. Lockwood said when she was interviewed for the job, she mentioned having children. Mistake #1: The interviewer asked if being a parent would interfere with getting the job done. Lockwood said no.
Still, the company remained skeptical — as reflected in their compensation offer to the woman. Mistake #2: While others in her position routinely started as $45,000 a year plus 10% commission, the company offered Lockwood just $25,000 a year base pay. After some back-and-forth, the woman and the employer agreed she would be paid the usual $45K, but that her commission rate would be only 5% until she hit $300,000 in sales. Then the commission rate would jump to the standard 10%.
Lockwood also tried to negotiate the standard vacation policy, which gave employees five days off a year. Her hiring manager responded that the company was pretty loose about the policy, so Lockwood shouldn’t worry about it.
Turns out, Lockwood was pretty good at the job, because she was getting close to the magic $300K sales figure needed to double her commission rate from 5% to 10%. That’s around the same time, in 2006, that her 4-year-old daughter came down with a highly contagious case of conjunctivitis — pinkeye.
Lockwood called in, explained the situation and saying she’d have to miss a day to stay with her daughter. Mistake #3: She got a call back summarily firing her because she “just wasn’t working out.”
The Chicago Human Right Commission found that the employer had discriminated against Lockwood because of her family situation. Among the bits of evidence that swayed the commission was a report that a colleague of Lockwood’s, in a similar situation, had been given the day off to deal with a home repair. (We’re editorializing here, but that part of the story seems to indicate that the employer placed plumbing problems ahead of health problems.)
The commission ordered the employer to pay Lockwood $300,000. The employer is appealing the decision.
All together now: What were they thinking?