WISCONSIN COURT OF APPEALS CLARIFIES EMPLOYEE CAUSES OF ACTION AGAINST FORMER EMPLOYE
This week in SEDLACEK V. D. MARK GROUP, INC., D/B/A MANPOWER the Wisconsin Court of appeals clarified when an employer can lawfully terminate an employee who refuses to allow payroll deductions for unearned compensation. Further the court clarified what the burden of proof is where the employee claims the employers disparaging remarks about a former employee resulted in loss of employment opportunity.
Manpower, a staffing firm, hired Sedlacek in 2002 and placed her at Kell Container, where she worked as a production associate. In 2008, Kell advised Manpower that bill rates were too high, and Manpower began an investigation. Manpower discovered that, instead of a $.50 raise, Sedlacek had mistakenly received a $2.00 raise in 2007 and had been overpaid $934.73. Sedlacek’s attorney made clear in a letter that Sedlacek would not consent to reimburse Manpower for the overpayment. Sedlacek was terminated.
Sedlacek applied for several other positions but was not able to locate work other than at McDonalds. Sedlacek asked a social friend, Dr. Kristina Nyhus, whether any work was available in Nyhus’ chiropractic business. Nyhus thought there might be three or four hours of extra filing, but was not actively looking for a new employee. Nyhus decided not to hire Sedlacek because the office manager wanted the overtime hours.
During this time, Sedlacek became curious about what Manpower was telling prospective employers and asked Nyhus to contact Manpower. Manpower initially refused to discuss Sedlacek’s work history or performance with Nyhus. When Nyhus persisted, the Manpower representative stated that Sedlacek was not welcome back at Manpower. Sedlacek brought suit, alleging wrongful termination and tortious interference with prospective employment. The circuit court dismissed both claims on summary judgment.
The court held that it is lawful for an employer to terminate an employee who refuses to consent to a voluntary payroll deduction for unearned compensation. The court further found that Sedlacek did not make a sufficient showing that anything the employer did caused her to lose future employment. Simply showing the employer stated that she was “not welcome back” was insufficient to prove a cause of action for interference with prospective employment.
Our lawyers routinely handle disputes for both employers and employees. Often there are concerns as to what an employer should do when a reference for a bad employee is sought. Likewise in some cases employees suspect the former employer may be giving less than sterling references. Contact Warren or David to consult with any concerns you may have regarding such issues.