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back to article 'Boss from hell' knuckle-rapped for 'firing contests'

Not all thankless jobs are in IT. In the American heartland, a court has sided with the ex-employees of one businessman who held "firing contests", in which he offered cash prizes to staffers asked to predict which unfortunate worker was next to face his wrath. "This guy was the boss from hell. He treated pretty much all of us …

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Meh

It may be distasteful...

but I'm not sure whether it would constitute a hostile work environment. That would be the closest applicable issue for this. Bad management and/or idiocy is not a crime.

Employees are being fired for breaking the rules they agreed to follow. From what I've read, these are not even obscure or unusual rules. Not talking on your cell phone while violating the dress code seems fairly clear cut.

Maybe the problem is that they are technically gambling?

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WTF?

wtf

Way to miss the point of the boss being a dickhead

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Betting on who's going to get sacked is definitely a hostile environment. You're encouraging your workers to sabotage their target coworker so that you earn your measly $10.

I wouldn't quit, I would sue that jackass for as much as the law would allow me... and I would win!

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Actually ...

Ernst is gambling. They're only gambling if they take the bet ...

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Unhappy

@Synja

"Bad management and/or idiocy is not a crime."

Spoken like a true wannabe manager.

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"idiocy is not a crime"

It may not ever have been written down, but I suspect that a careful reading of history would show that *beligerent* idiocy is indeed a crime in every human society, punishable by "whatever they can make stick".

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Flame

no way would you win.

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Anonymous Coward

???

These people are probably close to making minimum wage. Realistically, if I were making that much an hour, I doubt I'd care to follow excessive micro-managing of my life. They were convenience store employees. That means as an employer, you should expect them to come to work clean, wearing clean clothes in decent condition and showing up on time. You don't want an attitude, then pay them more because they deal with the public. They understand the system of 'you aren't worth paying above what we can legally get away with' and will give what they are payed for. If you treat your employees fairly and equally, most will put some effort into the job. I've quit a higher paying job to work for the competition at a lower amount because I didn't have to worry about back-stabbers at the new job.

I'd bet that almost on one would like having their job held over their head when they have bills to pay and need place to eat, sleap and live.

It is one thing to pay minimum pay for no-brainer work, it's another to treat people so disrespectfully. This guy's problem was not about firing people for not following rules.

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acutualy being tstupid is no defence

if a manger stipidly descriminates it still an offence (probably a more severe one)

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Commentards arise!

I have to say the replies to this post show Reg readers in fine form. You ask a technical question, while implying that you agree with the sentiment of the article - and the local idiots take you to task for ... what? Not believing that being an ass is against the law?

Now, I do believe that under US law it's reasonable to find that Ernst's actions constituted a hostile work environment, and I agree with Ackerman's decision. But it's hardly prima facie. In fact, it's an important test case for US labor law: at what point does obnoxious behavior by a supervisor support a valid claim of workplace hostility?

And to respond to Synja's question: it's not the firings, or the question of dismissal for cause, that constitutes the hostile work environment. It's how Ernst trumpeted them in front of employees. Ackerman presumably (I haven't read the decision) found either that that created an oppressive atmosphere, or constituted an attempt to get employees to voluntarily leave in order to avoid firing them and consequently having to pay unemployment. Ernst's contest seems too undirected (ie, it didn't target a specific employee) for it to be the latter, but that's just a guess.

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Coat

Why not hats?

I think I know why that guy outlawed hats on the job: he couldn't find one that fit properly over his pointy hair.

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IT Angle

Is the IT angle the obvious comparison with Steve Jobs?

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FAIL

Steve Jobs hasn't - to the best of my knowledge - performed monkey-boy dances, or hurled furniture around his office.

Don't try to squeeze your irrational prejudice into a case where it doesn't fit...

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A bit up your own

I don't see any mention of monkey dances or hurling furniture in the article.

So which of your own irrational prejudices are you trying to squeeze in here?

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Facepalm

Knob

"Apple CEO Steve Jobs is known for his obsessive attention to detail and iron-fisted management style. He is often accused of making his subordinates cry and firing employees arbitrarily" -Forbes magazine

Unlike your itarded rambling presumably about Steve Ballmer (famous nutjob, not famous bully), that would seem to fit quite squarely with the article's content. I can't imagine I'm alone in that when presented with, 'Bully' and, 'IT,' I immediately think Steve Jobs. Bob Cringely's 'Accidental Empires' will put you right.

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No one said it was a crime. Nor did they say Mike Miller should get his job back. The issue was whether some other employees who quit were eligible for unemployment compensation, which generally people who quit are not. But the court ruled that the boss's conduct was so egregious that he basically gave them no choice but to quit, so they do get benefits.

For those unfamiliar with this system, employers don't have to pay this directly, but all employers have to pay for unemployment insurance (a tax really), and if too many of their employees end up out of work and collecting unemployment compensation, it will make their rate go up.

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+1

Thanks for the explanation!

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Another case of meaning reversal

Egregious used to mean "remarkably good", but now means "outstandingly bad; shocking".

Wicked!

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Flame

It has often been suggested that careers in management tend to...........

............attract sociopaths. If one needed any confirmation that that hypothesis has something going for it, this report would provide it. If it were legally possible the judge should have remanded that sucker for psychiatric evaluation before delivering the judgement. Some of these bosses should definitely be amongst the first up against a wall when the ect ect......

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Anonymous Coward

not sure if

my wife would have something to say to that, let me find out, I'll forward this message to her and let's see what happens...

...

oh, she says she's already got the ip of "that person" and please kiss the kids g'night from mummy, she might be a bit late home from work. Again.

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Headmaster

ect ect?

ITYM etc. etc. Short for et cetera (Lat., and so on), hence the other abbreviation &c, since the ampersand began life as a single character incorporating an E and a t.

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Anonymous Coward

&c &c?

Except &c is only used by those pretentious hipster types who've spotted it in a 19th century journal or book, and henceforth decided to use it in preference to the etc they grew up using 'cos it's archaic and less popular, and therefore vastly more quirky and indicative of their assumed erudition...

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Anonymous Coward

He will be welcome in the UK

I know a couple of people like that. In fact, I have been on the receiving end of more than one person like that. They all got promotions to CXX positions.

All I can say is that he was simply in the wrong country. In the UK he would have been cherished and promoted by management.

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Up until the press got hold of it, then the company would sacrifice him to the gods of Public Relations.

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Anonymous Coward

> I have been on the receiving end of more than one person like that.

Multiple bosses have had issues with your behaviour. Have you considered that it might possibly be your behaviour that is at fault? Perhaps it really is a bad idea to spend most of the day texting and talking on your mobile instead of working.

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Anonymous Coward

Bosses like this are common in small companies

The attitude that I am the boss you are the peon is very common in the workplace. Small companies are the worse. They are exempt from the Federal Employment laws. Even in big companies as long as the division is making money the manager is basically untouchable as long as he hides behind the " business needs, manager discretion" safety net.

They can be just as bad as this boss and much more creative.

AC for obvious reasons.

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Anonymous Coward

AC @0639: They all got promotions to CXX positions.

Became C++ programmers?

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WTF?

Iowa is unusually liberal for a midwestern state, and their courts often take the worker's side in disputes like these. The "hostile work environment" doctrine is a tough one to really define. Basically, if a worker feels that the work environment is hostile, it is - this is mitigated somewhat by judges throwing out absurd cases. This one is borderline, definitely arguable either way. The boss was enough of an asshat that I personally would feel harassed by his conduct, and think most workers would. If you feel on a daily basis that your job is at risk because you fear an "attack" from your boss, including, as demonstrated by the email, the potential public humiliation of the boss gloating about having fired you, it is entirely reasonable to feel that you are in a hostile work environment.

The WTF icon because it is baffling to see an evidently successful business person who believes that this sort of sociopathic behavior is rational.

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Unhappy

@Jacob Lipman

"The WTF icon because it is baffling to see an evidently successful business person who believes that this sort of sociopathic behavior is rational."

Who said anything about rational?

Although from his PoV it was certainly "fun".

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Rationalization

People who do things the rest of us see as evil rarely see it in the same light - I have no doubt that this man rationalizes his own behavior. Mr. Hitler did not think he was an evil man. He rationalized what is widely seen as the most horrific crime ever committed against humanity. Compared to a brutal genocide perpetrated over the course of many years, "being a dick to some employees" should be rather easy to rationalize.

P.S., since no comparison was made to another commenter, does this qualify as an invocation of Godwin's Law?

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"Ernst contested the claim"

"When they applied for unemployment benefits, Ernst contested the claim, saying that since the resignations were voluntary, unemployment was not justified."

Are you telling me that in the US a former employer can potentially block a unemployment benefit claim? Seriously?!?

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Boffin

Sokudo

Unemployment is an insurance policy, not a right. You can't just quit and get unemployment nor can you be fired for cause and still get it.

There is the legal concept that an environment can be so hostile as to be tantamount to firing without cause. Such as this case.

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Facepalm

of course the claim can be blocked. most of those discharged are ether not needed, which justifies benefit, or unsuitable, which doesnot.

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Boffin

Constructive Dismissal

This sounds like Constructive Dismissal in the UK - normally you don't get JSA (unemployment benefit) for 6 months if you resign, but you can claim Constructive Dismissal. But its very hard to prove.

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Big Brother

Very true, which is one of the weapons used by a certain breed of manager that is usually brought in by companies or other employers (public services are certainly fond of this one) that do this sort of thing to try to cut workforces without having to stump up. Eventually they move on, usually before the employer notices what is actually happening or when the manager makes one too many decisions that cause direct problems for the people under him, just as with this report.

My concern is that not enough is done to highlight these corporate bullies (for that is what they actually are). The only difference here is that the manager in question got too cocky and underestimated what his workforce would do if pushed too far.

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Anonymous Coward

Been there

Sounds like a boss I had once, who didn't have the power to just fire people but took extreme sadistic pleasure in not only setting his own staff against each other, but even better if you could dish dirt on others in "enemy" teams to get them in trouble. If you got caught in trouble for absolutely anything even if you weren't playing the pathetic games he wanted, he would simply deny any knowledge and leave you to squirm while someone else had a go at you. When he did lower himself to rescue someone from trouble, he would make sure they owed him big for it.

I refused to play, suffered minor depression, almost split up with my wife and contemplated suicide, until one day I just got up, walked into work and handed my notice after 2 years of it.

You're probably asking why did I stay all that time? I must have been stupid to put up with it. Well, I was brought up to work hard, never quit a job, if you do it's a sign of failure. I had my wife to look after, the mortgage to pay, you spend so much time worrying about the job you don't see clearly and you don't think there's any way out. I was lucky I had a moment of clarity before it was too late.

Scumbags like this are all around, look after yourself and look for the signs. I now have the attitude I should have had long ago, it's just a job. I do my job to the best of my ability and I plan what I am going to do with my free time when I'm not there. I never want to end up like that again.

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You did the right thing, hope you're doing ok now mate.

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Anonymous Coward

Here here. My first job, I didn't know any better. Boss made me keep a log of toilet breaks because when he wanted me urgently one day, I was having a pee. I was singled out for this treatment. He also put up a display of "poor photocopying" in the kitchen, captioned "Waste of money - like *my name*" (the journal in question was over 100 years old, the special to-the-edge photocopier was out of action and I didn't want to break the spine by squashing it onto the flat bed).

Yes, bad bosses exist; like AC above I had financial commitments, it was a prestigious place I was working in, doing what I wanted to do and I didn't know any better. I do now!

These guys just waiting for the axe to fall, wielded by a boss who seems to delight in firing people and public humiliation would certainly feel it was a toxic environment. It's constructive dismissal.

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What Charles said.

Been there, done that, considered throttling the CEO with the corporate t-shirt.

You're not unusual; it can take years to realise just how toxic a situation has become. Having realised it, you did exactly the right thing. Nice thing about our industry: there's always another (better) option...

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Joke

Clear money saving policy

You tell your employees to send in the names of the next person they think will be fired. You count them up, then fire the guy with most "votes", because clearly his co-workers don't like him, and they must have a reason, right?. Small prizes for the correct "guesses" and you don't have to pay fees for secret shoppers. The man is a genius!

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I had the same thought

Does that make me a bad person? Am I qualified to be a lunatic manager too?

I do know someone (names withheld to protect the guilty) who had a boss who used to take people's office chairs away if they didn't sell enough in a month. He also claims the boss got annoyed with one salesman, who was on the phone, and not being pushy enough. So he set some paper alight, and chucked it over his cubicle wall...

My informant was sent round with the hush money, to avoid the inevitable loss at tribunal (and publicity), and says that his opening gambit was:

"When Bob set you on fire, he was only trying to communicate with you..."

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setting employees on fire.

I think ime on fairly strong grounds her setting people on fire is grounds for constructive dismissal (unless your a stuntman)

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Anonymous Coward

A "slap around the back of the head" for the offending employees...

That would have been enough, if they did it again a good kicking next time they are around the back in the stores area.

But sacking was a bit severe.

One lesson to learn is that the competition should only have been held with other management, not the drones.

PS Only kidding, had a manager like this in my team, I kicked him out after I caught him assaulting a 16 apprentice, whilst calling him a racist name (above all nice kid actually wanted to learn!). I took great pleasure in leading the manager through our dismissal and disciplinary procedures.

The workplace is stressful enough these days, without dickheads making it unbearable.

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The Key would have been Organisation

Assuming this is a large chain of convenience stores. Find a Volenteer to be fired.... We'll call him Steve.

If 100 employees put Steve down as the one to be fired, Steve can then have some fun getting fired and the horrible boss' scheme will have cost him $1000

Just an idea.

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Mushroom

US isdoomed

Weird. Boss offers to pay employees to encourage employees in general to follow normal customer service rules. An environment hostile to those who refuse to attend to customers or to follow company rules results, and some quit. Unemployment rules that they are without work for no fault of their own? This is nuts.

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@johnwerneken

interesting slant, john, very interesting.

see also:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earth

(because I think you may be confused about which planet you are on)

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FAIL

Comprehension not your strong point?

Boss runs contest on 'who will I fire for nothing next' and you don't see a problem with that?

Amateur troll at best. D-

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Anonymous Coward

Did you even read the article?

The unemployment benefits were for people who quit because of the hostile work environment (i.e. the boss being a dick) - not the ones that were fired for cause.

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And Ernst

What will happen to him now? Wil he be fired? Or will he be encouraged to be a bit more sneaky next time?

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