A BLATANT BLUFF©
Glenn Jansen, vice president of operations, led the discussion. "We're concerned about Stella Trottier. She's one of the customer service trainees sent up from the Augusta district. Apparently, she's gotten very wild during her stay at the Ramada, and we've had a number of complaints from the other trainees housed at the motel. She's out drinking every night and has been entertaining a variety of local boys in her room. We just can't have that kind of girl working for us. Our company has an image to maintain in the community. Since you're the human resources manager, we need your help in firing her."
"I see," Joe commented. "Let me ask you a few questions first. How is Stella's performance on the job?"
"Well, I don't know. Who here can speak to that?" Glenn asked.
"I can," Mike Steel replied. Mike was the sales manager in charge of telemarketing and customer service.
"So how's her work?" Joe repeated.
"Fine–actually very good–when she's in the office," Mike responded.
"What do you mean `when she's in the office'?" Joe asked. "Is she missing time on the job?"
"Oh, I didn't mean that. She's always here on time and finishes all her work. She's picked up the new training very well. What I meant was that she's out of control when she leaves here."
"And you think that we should fire her because you disapprove of her life style?" Joe asked.
"Well, yes. She's setting a bad example for the rest of the team. It's bad for morale. None of our girls behave like that, and we don't want to see it."
"Absolutely," chimed Doug Bentson, the controller. "We don't want trash like that around here."
The group was all happily agreeing with themselves when Joe decided to drop the first shoe.
"Gentlemen, I want you to know that I have been aware of the Stella Trottier situation. The motel manager from the Ramada and I have been in close contact for over a week about this. Now we can fire Stella if you would like, but I want to let you know that if we do, we are sure to be slapped with a sex discrimination case. From your own admissions, her performance is above satisfactory. What she chooses to do when she is not on company time is up to her. Both of these facts will go against us if we fire her for the reason you just gave me. I can also assure you that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will rule in her favor, and the company will pay a stiff settlement. And remember, that settlement will affect our bottom line and ultimately our bonuses–but that's up to you. However, if you insist that we fire her, it's important to bear in mind that there's more to this than money. A sex discrimination suit will lead to a major investigation. That means I will have to turn my files over to the feds, and we'll have to get sworn statements from the manager of the Ramada."
"So what's the big deal, Joe?" Glenn interrupted.
Joe was prepared for this. He had suspected the nature of this meeting and wanted to avoid the time and expense of an unnecessary civil rights suit, especially since it would involve so much of his time. He also knew that this group could be as inflexible as a rusty suit of armor once they decided an employee had to go. So, before responding, Joe opened a file he had handy, secretly crossed his fingers, and tucked his hand from view.
"Well, it so happens that I've been aware of this situation since Stella's third day here. So, I asked the Ramada manager to keep a record of all the car license plates parked in front of her door. He gave me that list yesterday, and I found something very interesting. One of the license plate numbers he noted comes from a company-owned vehicle assigned to one of you in this room," Joe lied.
"Now if I were to turn this over for investigation," Joe continued, "there would be a whole lot of explaining to do."
Joe took a long pause and locked eyes with each manager for a split second, hoping his bluff would hold. "Here's what I suggest instead. Stella has only one more week of training. When she returns to Augusta, she can go back to live with her mom and dad who'll keep a tight rein on her activities. We'll still have a good employee in the Augusta district, the company's training dollars will be recouped, and we won't have to spend a whole lot of time and money paying a sex discrimination suit, which will embarrass the devil out of one of our officers. How does that sound?"
The room was silent for a few moments. Finally, Glenn nervously cleared his throat and sputtered, "Excellent suggestion, Joe. Is there anyone who objects to this alternative?"
Glenn looked around the room.
No one said a word.
"I guess that concludes our meeting then. Joe, thanks for all your help."
Joe uncrossed his fingers and carefully tucked his papers in his files.
Human resources professionals should be trusted, contributing members of the management team. If they want to maintain their rightful place at the table, they must play by the rules. Duping management into "doing the right thing" is clearly a violation of those rules. If Joe's peers ever discovered his deceptive tactics, they would no doubt exclude him from participating in future critical business decisions.
I generally agree with Joe Matson. Companies that impose discipline based on employees' off-premises conduct run a substantial risk of wrongful discharge and related lawsuits, not to mention the possible embarrassment such a lawsuit might cause.
On the other hand, where an employee is engaging in conduct that may affect performance on the job, an employer has a legitimate basis to take appropriate action (e.g., counseling, warning, etc.) to address the situation, even if the employee's conduct is away from the work place. Moreover, when an employer is housing a group of out-of-town employees for company-related purposes, the company would be within its right to insist that those employees do nothing to damage the company's image and reputation. The key to defusing these potentially explosive situations is often the manner in which they are handled.
Excerpted from Outrageous Conduct: Bizarre Behavior at Work©