punkwalrus (punkwalrus) wrote,

It doesn't pay to screw coworkers

This article sums it up best, but I could have told them that based on my own experience.

I honestly don't know if I have ever been fired from anything. No one has ever told me, at least to my face, "you're fired." Or even, "get out." It was always the wussy option of, "You are being let go," or "we have decided to go another way..." AOL doesn't count, where I was laid off twice, because they got rid of my whole department both times, so it was hard to take that personally. Plus, I always got another job at AOL right at the last moment.

In the only two cases I was let go and didn't have a job lined up, it was more a case of, "We have to let you go because we found someone to do the job cheaper." The first time was a publishing company I worked for. I was told I was being let go quite obliquely with a straight and joyous face. "Your job is so low skilled," I was told by the owner, "Fairfax County has a program where we only have to pay a reformed convict half of minimum wage!" Essentially, as part of a "halfway house" work program, our county would pay the other half of the wages so a former drug user or convict could get their feet on the ground and have a normal life. So they hired some guy to save money.

That man later stole their copier and $200 in petty cash.

I was unemployed for about 2-3 months, but luckily, I had enough cash saved up to pay rent and eat. Sadly, they also claimed they didn't take tax out of my paycheck, so I had to pay taxes TWICE. Yes, I am sure I could have sued or whatever, since I still had my pay stubs, but at the time fighting for $900 in taxes was beyond my means. This is how poor people get screwed.

The second time was Chesapeake Knife and Tool. The District Manager was an odd guy. First of all, we only had one district for the entire chain, so that was an odd title. Second, the DM was a former burn victim from a house fire, and made him a little... nuts. I think he did his job in the company fairly well, but he had various obsessions that would set him off on inspired tangents that would only make sense if you ever worked in the knife industry. The knife industry is full of people a little more nuts than Train Spotters, and a little less nuts than people who frequently attend gun shows... but they have the qualities of both.

One of the "new tools" the DM found was via my former boss who showed him Lotus 1-2-3. Actually, we had been using this spreadsheet program for quite a while, but he didn't know just how versatile a program like that could be. So he tore int this new tool like a Fantasy Sports enthusiast compiles scores. pretty soon, he had all kinds of printouts about how to manage the stores inventory, money, personnel and so on. Most of it was pretty neat.

But sadly, when times got tough, he relied on his new toy a little too much. The first thing that went wrong was he fired all the full timers for reasons I could only assume was because they were in one cell on the sheet. "If we eliminate everyone in E16," he said, "we'll save $136,000 a year!" Sadly, firing all the full timers left some stores with a manager, assistant manager, and a handful of part timers who were on a "as needed" work basis. What made it worse is that in order to fit the spreadsheet, some of the full timers were being fired without pay for the work they had done already. I had to tell one guy, "I am sorry to tell you you have been laid off... yeah... and... well, you won't be paid for the days you worked on Friday and Saturday, either... yeah, I suck... I know..." Some full timers wanted to file a lawsuit, but I don't think that got off the ground. They ended up hiring some full timers back because it got crazy near the holiday season.

All this led to a more "targeted approach," which was what Circuit City apparently did. I was one of the three highest paid salespeople in the company. Even though I was an assistant manager, in that company, everyone had to sell, even managers. So being one of the top salespeople AND being in management drew quiet a lot of bonuses and raises. But towards the end of my stay there, things got strained. There was an incident with a practical joke pulled on me that went terribly wrong when I got the police involved (not knowing it was a gag pulled on me by another manager: short summary, he made me think I was involved in selling a murder weapon in a recent high profile case), plus I had some problems with my heart that led to some sick days. Even though I had medical excuses from the dcotor and hospital, the writing was on the wall.

First, they sent me to a "penalty store." This is a common tactic in retail when you want to fire someone, but don't have grounds to do so. You just make it intolerable to work, hoping they quit, or you fire them because of some incident related to their deflated morale by putting them in a store that always does badly due to location. In my case, they thought that my sales would go lower, and they could fire me for that. Sadly, I had a lot of loyal customers who then visited me at my new location (a bulk of my big sales were local chefs), and I doubled the store's income in less than a month. So then they told me they couldn't afford to pay me every day I was there, and so they'd have me only work half a week. Then it was a few days a week. Long story short, they stopped asking me to come in for an entire month. But they never fired me, see?

After 30 days, I just went to the local unemployment office. Not surprisingly, they said I was still employed, and the case was referred to the deputy on site. She reviewed my case, and decided to call them on speakerphone, requesting I not speak unless she asked me to. So I got to hear my DM lie about my employment and get caught at it, which was a guilty pleasure, I have to admit. First, he said they had been paying me. So the deputy asked if she could pull their tax records. Then he said, wait, they didn't understand the question, and that they didn't actually pay me for 30 days, but I was still employed by them as a contractor. She then asked him why I had pay stubs (I had brought them with me). Finally, he said he had to get the owner for a moment, and the deputy pushed "mute." "I love these guys," she said. "They don't want to pay unemployment, but in the state of Virginia, if you haven't been paid for 30 days without a prior agreement, that's unemployed to us." I won the case, got unemployment, and sadly, made things harder for the next few people they let go.

For instance, another top sales guy was later fired during a "surprise audit" when his drawer was short $10. That guy turned around and sued them, and won. I also worked on a case where the Department of Labor contacted me. It was then I found a former part timer I had hired was actually an investigator with the DoL. Based on some former complaints, they were investigating a racial discrimination suit filed by some former employees based on a former boss of mine who hired Asians because "they have this samurai honor thing, and will work for less money." This was partially true, because he did claim the "samurai honor" thing to me once, but I don't think he paid them any less, and he didn't hide the fact he felt that way since all the Vietnamese that worked there joked about it. He also didn't know Vietnamese from Chinese from Japanese... they were all "descended from Asian samurais" to him. As far as I know, the case was never proven or maybe was settled out of court.

It's moot now, because a few years ago, the chain went out of business.

Sadly, I was unemployed for the next two years. Yes, I did publish my book at the time, worked Christmas help at the Gamekeeper, and did a few paid conventions (or at least got free room and food) but after those days, I made damn sure I always had options in the wings.
Tags: chesapeake knife and tool, firing, work aol
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