WHERE THERE'S SIN THERE'S SUFFERING (Cont'd)
Hank pointed to the briefcase. "Are there any company documents in the briefcase?"
"Uh . . . well, yes, I just sold a policy," Dan stammered.
"Then empty it," Hank said, pointing to the chair.
Dan clutched his briefcase to his chest and began to move toward the door. Hank, anticipating his reaction, had positioned himself in the doorway.
Dan angrily threw the briefcase on the nearest chair, pushed Hank aside, and stomped out of the office. Hank could hear Dan's car roar out of the parking lot. Then Hank walked to the outer office where Dan's administrative assistant was fully engrossed in her work. She was clearly oblivious of what had just transpired.
"Excuse me," Hank interupted, "but I don't think you ever told me your name."
"Susie," she smiled. "Susie Stratton."
"Susie, I need to inform you of some changes that are going to take place."
"Yes . . ." she responded somewhat warily. She was very young and inexperienced but loved her job. She began to get frightened that the company was going to lay her off.
"Dan will not be in the office for awhile, and he may not be returning at all. We are sending a substitute agent to handle his business. His name is Allen Markham."
"Why, what's wrong?" she asked with a concerned look on her face. "Is Dan all right?"
"I can't go into detail right now. When do you report for work?" Hank asked.
"At 8:00 A.M.," she responded. "Am I being laid off?"
"No, this has nothing to do with you. Don't worry," Hank assured her. "However, do not report for work until 9:00 A.M. tomorrow, to allow Allen to get settled."
"How do I fill out my time card?" she asked. "I can't afford to lose hours."
"You have my approval to fill it out with regular hours. Don't worry, you won't have to make up the time."
"Are you sure? Dan was very strict about my time."
"Typical," Hank thought. "He'll nickel and dime his admin while he rips off everyone else." Then Hank responded, "Yes, I'm sure."
"Can't you tell me anything more?" she asked.
"I'm afraid not–it's confidential company business. But everything will be fine. A locksmith will be here soon to change the locks. When he arrives, I would like you to leave. And, again, don't worry. You'll be paid for the full day. Finish up whatever you were working on. The rest can wait until tomorrow."
The locksmith arrived, and the admin left as Hank instructed. While the locksmith worked, Hank decided to call the number he found for the army base. He inquired if the army had recently surplussed any electric typewriters and provided the staff with the serial numbers. His inquiry revealed that the computers were reported stolen from the base six months ago. Hank informed the staff that he had spotted the equipment at Dan's office and told them they could pick up the computers any time. Then he gave them Dan's home number and address.
Based on the evidence gathered by the company's investigators, the state insurance department revoked Dan's license. Concurrently, the military began to move in on Dan regarding the stolen computers. All this was too much for Dan to bear. He took his life rather than face imprisonment.
Although we all regret the tragic outcome of this case, we also recognize that both Hank Corcoran and the company had very serious responsibilities to their clients. Hank acted properly by responding quickly and using legal counsel, but he should have given more thought to the human side–both for Dan and his secretary. Hank's mystery with the secretary caused her to have undue concern for her job, and Hank missed an opportunity to glean some important information about the operation. Because of Hank's mishandling of the employee relations component, the new agent will have a much tougher time getting the office to resume a business-as-usual environment.
One of the issues posed by this story is the extent to which an employer can lawfully search an employee's desk, office, briefcase, etc. While the constitutional prohibition against warrantless searches and seizures generally applies only to governmental agents, some state constitutions and judicial decisions have restricted a private employer's rights in this regard as well. It would have been desirable for Hank to have familiarized himself with the extent of his authority to conduct a search before doing so. While the law of each jurisdiction varies, a rule of thumb is that the closer you get to the employee's "person," the greater is the employee's expectation of privacy and, hence, the greater the risk of liability for the employer who engages in searches of employees or their property.
Excerpted from Outrageous Conduct: Bizarre Behavior at Work©