'Boss from hell' knuckle-rapped for 'firing contests'
Crossing the line between motivation and harassment
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 like dirt," one victim of William Ernst, owner of the small Midwestern convenience-store chain QC Mart, told The Des Moines Register."
Ernst's fun li'l motivational scheme, detailed in a memo sent to employees entitled "New Contest – Guess The Next Cashier Who Will Be Fired!!!", told employees that he'd be sending spies – "secret shoppers", as they're known in the trade – around to his convenience stores to root out employees who were not abiding by Ernst's rules, such as his prohibition of hats.
Employees were encouraged to write down the name of the employee they thought would next be snared in Ernst's trap, and seal that prediction in an envelope. After the next firing, Ernst would open the envelopes and the lucky winner would receive a princely $10.
"And no fair picking Mike Miller from (the Rockingham Road store)," Ernst wrote. "He was fired at around 11:30 a.m. today for wearing a hat and talking on his cell phone. Good luck!!!!!!!!!!"
After receiving the memo, several employees at one convenience store decided they had had enough of Ernst, and quit. When they applied for unemployment benefits, Ernst contested the claim, saying that since the resignations were voluntary, unemployment was not justified.
Judge Susan Ackerman, however, sided with the employees, calling the contest "egregious and deplorable." In her ruling, she declared that "The employer's actions have clearly created a hostile work environment by suggesting its employees turn on each other for a minimal monetary prize," Ackerman ruled. "This was an intolerable and detrimental work environment."
One commenter to the Des Moines Register story asked, quite logically, "Do I win a prize for guessing that Mr. Ernst will be the next person to be fired?" ®
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.
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.
Way to miss the point of the boss being a dickhead