"What are the odds?" I asked myself at the time. It was the summer of 1996.
I was working for a technical help call center, working in the beta development area. One day, we got in a new batch of recruits. Our company had a policy that all new employees had to spend 90 days on the phone with customers so they knew about our customers and what they were like. One of the new recruits said to me, "I'm baaaaack..." like the girl from Poltergheist. Sometimes the new techies were odd, but hey, I am not normal, either. But brushing this off as a techie trying to be cute wasn't the reaction he was looking for.
"Remember me?" he asked. I indicated I saw him in the hallways during his training. "No, no... I'll let you think about it for a while. My name is Mike Meteor."
Okay, Mike Meteor was NOT his name, but he had a name like that. It was alliterate, and sounded like a hero from a 1950s sci-fi serial. He had a name that spoke of some sort of celebrity personality. It sounded familiar, like if someone said, "Hi, my name is Stu Barrymore," or "Jen Halflek." But I didn't recall a Mike Meteor. He told me he'd give me a few days to remember. Then I promptly forgot about him.
A few days later, when I didn't chat with him or something, he spent his break in my pod, and finally reminded me where I should have heard from him (after a few bad guesses, including, "On the radio? You were a Deejay? I know, a rave emcee?"). "No," he said, "I interviewed with you. You never hired me. How come?" I didn't know what he was talking about. "You know, at Cargo Furniture." I had been a manager at Cargo for the previous three years before this tech job, but I didn't remember a Mike Meteor. I gave the usual, "Oh, don't feel bad, I interviewed a lot of people..." which kind of pissed him off, and set the mood for our future working relationship.
Mike Meteor. Mike Meteor. Mike Meteor ... that's a name that should jump out. Maybe he interviewed with someone else? Now, when I was a manager at Cargo, I had a notebook that I kept. It was a plain spiral notebook, with day-to-day notes, kind of like a journal, a message board for my other employees, a calendar of events, and a place to jot down thoughts and stuff. A poor man's day planner. When the new manager took over (I stayed on as a part-timer to help the new manager ease into his job), he threw it away, and I fetched it out of the trash and took it home for memories and humor value later in life. I looked for that notebook when I got home, and found it among the other stuff I just store and forget about. I looked for Mike Meteor.
I found him. An applicant in April of the previous year. He was listed as my 10:00am interview, and for the notes, I had circled his name, put a line through it, and wrote NO NO NO all over it. Now I remembered.
Mike had come in, dressed real nice and everything. He was energetic, and seemed to be a good prospect. He was recommended by a manager of another store. We went through employees so fast at that company because the hours and pay sucked, so all managers were looking for one another, and sending applicants around the chain. Mike interviewed well, and the only thing slightly unusual was he asked we not contact his current place of employment (I think it was Office Depot) because he was involved in a litigation with them. Okaaay ... sure. Maybe he said that because he just didn't want them to know he was quitting. No, he finally said, he got injured on the job, showing the large scar on his face. He then unfolded a terrible scene of employee abuse and a strict disregard for safety by management. He was suing under OSHA standards, but can't really discuss the case because it was in court. But he left other references.
I always check references. The following paragraph illustrates one of the many times this saved my ass.
I forgot the real names of the companies, so I am making them up. I called all of them in reverse order (going back in time). Office Depot was out, so I called CompuWareHouse. They said a very odd thing when I asked about his employment. He had gotten injured on the job after a shelf fell down on him (or something like that), and only worked with them for three months. Then I called Carpet Bulk, and they told me that he was unfortunately injured in a forklift accident on his 93rd day, and was a bit surprised he could still walk. I called Reclaimed Office Furniture Land and the manager said he was not allowed to discuss the lawsuit, it was settled out of court. Guess how long he was there? Yup. 90 days. I bet you can guess what the employer before that had to say? That guy was amazed he was still alive, and then a bit pissed. Yes, only there for three months.
So... I dropped that resume and application like a hot potato. But Mike kept "following up," and became a bit pushy as to why he didn't have the job yet. I told him I was afraid he'd get hurt. He became belligerent and told me it was illegal to discriminate based on injury. My District Manager told me, "Do this, get a note from his doctor that he is able to work. We can request that. He'll never get it because he'll lose his court case." I cheerfully said that to Mike when he called back. Mike angrily said he'd be happy to, and I never heard from him again.
So now this clown was working for my company. Jesus. I didn't know what to say. I stewed on this information for months, wondering whether my company checked references, and if on day 91, he'd claim an injury. Mike was just a butthead. And Mike ... was now on day 80. Finally, I confided in my boss. Mike was not very friendly, and people were becoming irritated with him, and my boss asked me what I thought of him. That's when I closed the door and spilled the beans. My boss thought what I said was very interesting. A week later, my boss and his boss wanted to have a conference with me. I retold the whole story. I asked, "Did you check? Did you check his past?" They did. That week. And apparently, he had several more places of work beneath his belt, and actually lied about working there for over 90 days. The conference became a jam session of HR hiring policies, references, and horror stories of management. But we all agreed, what a coincidence!
Sure enough, Mike started to complain that the lights over his pod gave him headaches, that the keyboard was straining his wrists, that his chair hurt his back, and is it just him, or does the AC smell funny? It was like he was planting the seeds for a future claim. Then he started to do dangerous stuff, like stand on office chairs (with casters) to unscrew light bulbs over his pod. Our boss said if he did that again, he'd be fired.
On day 94 or something, Mike showed to work with a lawyer. My company was totally prepared, and brought their own lawyers. There was a meeting that my boss later told me about. My company, in response to his claims, said he'd get (for free), an ergonomic keyboard, wrist braces for his carpal tunnel, a special chair for his back, dimmed lighting in a special pod, a screen for monitor eye strain, and insisted on checkups with a neutral party physician every two weeks to check up on his health. The lawyer apparently did not see that angle coming. Mike was forced to accept. Before the meeting ended, though, the company said, "Your past references were most helpful in the direction this discussion has taken. Keep in mind our employee health is of primary concern. But because of our discussions, those companies may be contacting you about their concerns of your current health as well."
Mike never peeped again. He was laid off the very next round of layoffs.
There is an end note to this, however. Our company had annual stockholder meetings with an open mike session. We went to one right after we were told our whole department was being outsourced to cheaper places in Arizona, and we had to find other jobs or be laid off in three months. For some reason, no one every responded to our requests to transfer, and many believed that our department had been blacklisted for some reason. Mike, in some strange form of "what the hell" bravery, asked the owner of our company, if front of 3000 employees, live via satellite, if this was true: why were we being blacklisted? Half the audience in the arena cheered. This apparently was a BIG problem. The owner said he was not aware of any blacklisting, and would look into it. The next day, a mandate of "all internal job transfer requests shall be answered within 48 hours, and a proof of interview will be mandatory." Because of that, I got to stay with the company.
Mike didn't. He stayed until the very end, and was one of the few people left who didn't get a job elsewhere. But I bet he already had his sights on some other company who had an OSHA sign in plain view...
This entry was originally posted at http://www.punkwalrus.com/blog/archives/00000187.html