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Judge Rules Boss's "Firing Contest" Created a Hostile Work Environment 314

Posted by samzenpus
from the take-this-job-and-shove-it dept.
Branded the "boss from hell" by his employees, 57-year-old William Ernst lost a court battle with ex-workers over unemployment benefits. An Iowa judge has decided that Ernst's "firing contest" memo wasn't the best management strategy, saying, "The employer’s actions have clearly created a hostile work environment by suggesting its employees turn on each other for a minimal monetary prize. This was an intolerable and detrimental work environment.” The memo reads in part: "New Contest – Guess The Next Cashier Who Will Be Fired!!! To win our game, write on a piece of paper the name of the next cashier you believe will be fired. Write their name [the person who will be fired], today's date, today's time, and your name. Seal it in an envelope and give it to the manager to put in my envelope."
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Judge Rules Boss's "Firing Contest" Created a Hostile Work Environment

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  • Damn...I was hoping he'd be from KMART but he was employed at some no name place called "QC Mart".

    Oh well guess I'll have to wait for KMART to die some other way than on its own...

  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Monday October 03, 2011 @01:26PM (#37591738)

    I had a boss like that once. He thought his "openly asshole" style of management was helpful because it "encouraged competition." In reality, the only thing it encouraged was hatred. It brought us closer as a team, but only in hating him. Half the employees were stealing from him, the other half were actively plotting against him. Basically, he created an environment where retaining talent was impossible, and only the dregs who couldn't get hired anywhere else stayed behind. He thought he was being clever, but he was only costing the company all its promising talent (including me).

    It's one thing to be a no-nonsense boss with high standards, it's quite another to be an obnoxious asshole who drives away all your best employees.

    • by Bucky24 (1943328)
      That sounds a little like how military boot camp works. The recruits bond together against the drill sergeants.
      • by schwit1 (797399)

        Nixon: Sobel's a genius. I had a headmaster in prep school who was just like him. I know the type.
        Winters: Lew, Michaelangelo's a genius. Beethoven's a genius.
        Nixon: You know a man in this company who wouldn't double-time Currahee with a full pack just to piss in that man's morning coffee?

      • by vlm (69642)

        That sounds a little like how military boot camp works. The recruits bond together against the drill sergeants.

        Something tells me you haven't been thru basic, or you had a really bad individual experience with someone in the chain of command being completely bonkers (which does happen).

        They try to get the recruits to bond with each other (... get your mind out of the gutter). All about cooperation, working together, etc.

        Respect them, yes. Actively plot against them, heck no. IF as a group, you were squared away, frankly they were pretty cool people.

        • by rtb61 (674572)

          More accurately, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychopath [wikipedia.org], is the appropriate description of that employers business style.

          One rather humorous thing about this story, taking the bosses behaviour as classically symptomatic of psychopathy any investigator out there be it taxation, health, labour or even criminal can pretty guarantee an easy investigation and conviction for a range of crimes.

          Non of his employees will cover for him and would likely all leap at the chance to testify against him and that kind

        • by Bucky24 (1943328)

          Something tells me you haven't been thru basic

          No, I haven't. My opinion of this comes from documentaries I've seen regarding basic training.

          • by Jawnn (445279)
            Like "Full Metal Jacket", right?
            Whatever...
            • by Bucky24 (1943328)
              No, more like "The Discovery Channel takes a look at boot camp"

              If I'd watched a bunch of hollywood movies on something and that's it I certainly wouldn't put forth an opinion on it.
            • by ArsonSmith (13997)

              I have been through basic training 20+ years ago, and "Full Metal Jacket" is very very close to reality. Minus Private Pile's going nuts, and the actual physical abuse was stopped sometime in the 70s/80s. My Father joined the service in the 60s and there was tons of physical abuse that he saw. Though he remained below the radar and didn't receive any himself.

          • You do know that Hollywood mostly makes FICTION right??
            also im certain from my time in Fort Lost In The Woods Misery and Signal Center that any DI that wanted to make recruits actually plot against him would find himself thrown under a very literal BUS. A Great DI will drop a recruit for pushups OVER THE PHONE and know that said recruit was actually doing them (one handed even).

            • by Bucky24 (1943328)

              You do know that Hollywood mostly makes FICTION right??

              Did I say Hollywood?

              • Mostly getting an easy joke in but my point does stand that most documentaries are 1 heavy on fiction 2 meant to show a specific event.

                besides there is know real way to for a DI to get a platoon/company of recruits to plot against him without causing "splash damage" on the part of the other DIs in the training.

      • by hairyfeet (841228)

        Actually my grandfather would rotate and have to do drill sergeant duty about once out of every three years. while he hated it he had been in foxholes in Europe and Korea and said you have no choice but to break them down so they will learn to follow orders and work as a unit, because as he put it "John Wayne lone wolf crap might look good on the big screen but IRL it got you killed damned quick on the battlefield". He said he saw that first hand in France when a couple thought they would be all macho after

  • me too (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    How can I submit timothy as the next Slashdot editor to be fired? Please please please.

  • Text of the memo (Score:5, Informative)

    by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Monday October 03, 2011 @01:29PM (#37591784) Homepage
    Text of the memo in question:

    To win our game, write on a piece of paper the name of the next cashier you believe will be fired. Write their name [the person who will be fired], today’s date, today’s time, and your name. Seal it in an envelope and give it to the manager to put in my envelope.

    “Here’s how the game will work: We are doubling our secret-shopper efforts, and your store will be visited during the day and at night several times a week. Secret shoppers will be looking for cashiers wearing a hat, talking on a cell phone, not wearing a QC Mart shirt, having someone hanging around/behind the counter, and/or a personal car parked by the pumps after 7 p.m., among other things.

    “If the name in your envelope has the right answer, you will win $10 CASH. Only one winner per firing unless there are multiple right answers with the exact same name, date, and time. Once we fire the person, we will open all the envelopes, award the prize, and start the contest again.

    “And no fair picking Mike Miller from (the Rockingham Road store). He was fired at around 11:30 a.m. today for wearing a hat and talking on his cell phone. Good luck!!!!!!!!!!”

    Wow. What an asshole. In a better economy I'd hope that he'd have trouble getting workers. Unfortunately, in the current economy it is probably much easier to find desperate people willing to put up with crap.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by vlm (69642)

      Wow. What an asshole.

      He was only threatening to fire people actively intentionally breaking some fairly simple rules. I LOLed when I read it. All I have to do, is not talk on my phone when I'm supposedly working, not violate the dress code, not violate security rules. I would not exactly break out in a cold sweat of terror.

      Now a Real toxic A hole, much worse than this guy, would threaten randomly, based on totally random arbitrary "attitude" or if female how hot she was.

      Being the hacker mentality the first thing I though of

      • by CarsonChittom (2025388) on Monday October 03, 2011 @02:21PM (#37592518) Homepage

        Wow. What an asshole.

        He was only threatening to fire people actively intentionally breaking some fairly simple rules. I LOLed when I read it. All I have to do, is not talk on my phone when I'm supposedly working, not violate the dress code, not violate security rules. I would not exactly break out in a cold sweat of terror.

        You're missing the point. As my daddy always told me, it's not what you say, it's how you say it. Nobody in their right mind would have a problem with a terse memo to the effect of "Violations of rules x, y, and z will result in termination of employment. You have been warned." It's couching things as though it were a game where you're (potentially) rewarded $10 for spying on your coworkers that made it a hostile work environment.

        • by Bigbutt (65939)

          It didn't seem like spying was involved. You know which ones of your coworkers don't follow the rules. The hat, cell phone, talking folks. He wasn't talking about turning them in, not even placing a bet. Based on what you know, you pick who you think will fail and put it in an envelope. When the next person is caught breaking the rules, the envelopes are opened and the winner determined. They get the 10 bucks. Now the boss does get a list of folks who might be breaking the rules for the next go-round but he

          • He wasn't talking about turning them in, not even placing a bet. Based on what you know, you pick who you think will fail and put it in an envelope. When the next person is caught breaking the rules, the envelopes are opened and the winner determined. They get the 10 bucks.

            How is this not a bet? Granted, no money's put down by the "players," but I'd still call it a bet.

        • by vlm (69642)

          spying on your coworkers

          Secret shoppers are never coworkers... that would kind of defeat the point?

          • I think I wasn't clear; please excuse me, and I'll try to do better below:

            Secret shoppers, who are non-employees, observe fireable rule violations, report them to the boss, and the offender gets fired. That's not the issue here.

            Whether a work environment is hostile or non-hostile is a continuum, obviously. But to paint with broad strokes, in a normal, non-hostile, work environment, an employee who observes rule violations takes such steps as are within his authority to correct the violation. For example,

      • by webheaded (997188)
        You think it's funny until you're working there and afraid that you could be fired for basically anything. Yeah some of them are probably dumb ass teenagers that can't follow the rules but even the ones that do are constantly afraid of losing their jobs. That is a shitty environment to work for and a GOOD employee will be nervous about that kind of shit too. So yeah, it sounds funny at first, but think about actually being one of those people.
      • by AmiMoJo (196126)

        Welcome to the extremely shitty world of minimum wage graft. Rather than try to create a pleasant work environment where people are motivated to work (not least by the money) all this guy can do is babysit his staff and crack the whip.

        Everyone has to work and even at the very bottom these people deserve some humanity.

  • by schlesinm (934723) on Monday October 03, 2011 @01:29PM (#37591786) Homepage
    "We're adding a little something to this month's sales contest. As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you're fired. "
  • and whats so bad about a quick mart cashier killing time when it is slow?

    • The original subject read "and whats so bad about a quick mart cashierkilling". According to the boss in TFA, apparently nothing is wrong with killing employees at all.

  • A much more innovative and effective strategy would have been to fire everyone and then hold auction-style interviews. Whoever agrees to work for the lowest wage gets a job.

    • > Whoever agrees to work for the lowest wage gets a job.

      All job hiring has been done like this since... forever.

    • A much more innovative and effective strategy would have been to fire everyone and then hold auction-style interviews. Whoever agrees to work for the lowest wage gets a job.

      Doesn't every employer already d.....

      Oh, I see what you're doing. Well played, Maestro. Well played. :>

    • that assumes they all don't pick some number higher than their current wage and refuse to work for lower... a little "collusion" if you want. Boss can always do the job BY HIMSELF until he finds and trains more workers!

      unilaterally firing everybody like that would also count toward Unemployment Insurance for the employees that didn't "win" the auction as they were "capriciously" and "unilaterally" let go. Unilaterally cutting pay by more than so many percent kicks in unemployment as well.

      • there is a reason that a Night of the Long Knifes type of thing is done at a District Level and not at a Store Level

        most of the time if you have to fire more than say Half of your employees then YOU AS A BOSS are a spacial anomaly known for high Gravity (aka an African American Aperture).

    • by hrvatska (790627)
      If you only take the lowest bidders you'll only get the lowest performers. Better performers would find someplace else to work.
  • As your resident QuadCities Slashdot associate, is there anything you guys want me to go confirm?
    I mean, there are QC marts scattered throughout town, I could probably go get some statements/rants from his current employees.

    Personally I get a kick out of any time the Midwest gets mentioned on Slashdot. This is downright hilarious. Especially since I just left a place due to a boss.
  • by ErichTheRed (39327) on Monday October 03, 2011 @02:48PM (#37592782)

    I'm all for workers' rights, and also can see things from the employers' side, but man, when you see a piece of work like that guy, you realize that there's a reason for all these labor laws and regulations. Just like everything in life, one chunk of idiots messes up things for everyone else. That happens on both sides of the equation - from the labor side, think about the people you work with who actively avoid doing anything, even going out of the way to be difficult. Or think about tenant-landlord laws -- they are slanted in favor of tenants because a fraction of landlords abuse their influence, regardless of how nightmarish a tenant might be. If people were rational on both sides, there would be less need for regulation.

    My experience with small-to-medium size business owners and managers has been mixed. For every decent, hardworking guy working his guts out to make a good place to work, there's the Napoleonic, reactive, stressed out crazy guy who creates a hostile work environment. It's not limited to small businesses either, but you see more of these types in small businesses because they're typically more invested. Some of it can probably be traced to the personality type you need to have to be a business owner -- combative, competitive, driven, etc. There's no way to succeed in small business without having at least some of those traits.

    In this case, it sounds mainly like ignorance of the law or willful disregard of it. The guy probably thought he was being funny, making a joke of what he saw as a major affront to his view of the world. I'm guessing the thought process goes something like this:

    - I am Master of Convenience Stores, King of the World.

    - I've got a bunch of kids who aren't doing everything I tell them.

    - I can fire anyone I want, and I will keep firing until I have a set of perfectly obedient employees.

    - Since the economy is lousy, I can scare my employees into doing what I want.

    - Hey, I know, let's make this fun! Heh heh heh, that'll show those idiots.... ...and the contest is born.

    In my opinion, people who subscribe to the "I can fire anyone for any reason and treat them like slaves because they should be paying ME to work here" attitude are left with the people who can't get jobs with normal bosses. Most people don't want to work for an unpredictable tyrant. Demanding good work is one thing, but being unreasonable is another. He just probably figured that his employees are either kids or people who really can't get better work and thought "motivation" like this was appropriate.

    Same thing goes for things like sexual harassment. I'm sure no one *wants* to be treated like that, but business owners abuse their power because they can.

    • by hduff (570443)

      I've always tried to treat my employees fairly. I treat them like thinking adults. I give them clear rules and instructions and try to give them as much authority and discretion as they can handle. I have yet had one make a mistake that could not be fixed or a mistake that was so serious the world ended; I look at mistakes as part of the learning process. I also realize that their world does not revolve around my business and I do show appreciation to them for the work they do, the service they provide my c

    • If people were rational on both sides, there would be less need for regulation.

      If people were rational on both sides we wouldn't need war, military, government, currency, or swear words.
      But yeah, it'd be nice if people were more rational.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by DerekLyons (302214)

      In my opinion, people who subscribe to the "I can fire anyone for any reason and treat them like slaves because they should be paying ME to work here" attitude are left with the people who can't get jobs with normal bosses. Most people don't want to work for an unpredictable tyrant. Demanding good work is one thing, but being unreasonable is another. He just probably figured that his employees are either kids or people who really can't get better work and thought "motivation" like this was appropriate.

      The t

  • I have to wonder. would he consider it deplorable if say the monetary gain was say, half of the fired employee's yearly salary? because to me he is objecting to the low prize value rather then the contest it's self.

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