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IBM HR Manager ‘shelf life’ comment not age discrimination

by on November 18, 2013

This excellent review from Holland & Hart in the US provides a useful breakdown of the recent case in which an HR manager in IBM enquired about an employees ‘shelf life’ in an instant message.  The issue at stake here was the meaning of the term ‘shelf life’ which IBM evidenced as relating to the work schedule on a client project, along with a significant amount of documentation from the performance management process highlighting the history of performance related discussions related to the employee.

However, as the article goes on to point out, there is a salutary lesson for HR managers here: “to be careful when discussing employees via e-mail and instant messaging.  Avoid using words or phrases that can be taken out of context or have multiple meanings.  It is sometimes easy to use shorthand or be informal when communicating via e-mail, or text or instant messaging.  But such communications are discoverable, and when taken out of context or misinterpreted, they can turn an otherwise legitimate termination into a hotly contested case“.

With the increasing availability of various forms of technology within the workplace, this is likely to become an increasing issue for HR managers and employment lawyers alike.

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