If Your Employer Is Trying To Fire You

I was reading through one of my cases about a contract dispute between an employee and an employer, and there were a couple of things I picked up from the case that I thought would be worth mentioning to you.

The basic plot was this: A business owner promises his 82 year-old janitor that he can continue working there for the rest of his life, and when the business owner dies and leave his son the business, the son is looking for ways to get rid of the the janitor and wipe him off the payroll.

He cut the janitor’s hours, lowered his wages, and still couldn’t get him to quit. Eventually, the son that became the business owner was able to fire him. And here’s how he did it.

First, he had the janitor fill out a self-evaluation form and scorecard, in which the janitor gave himself scores like 7/10 or 8/10, that sort of thing. On the self-evaluation form, the janitor was asked to list his weaknesses. The stuff that the janitor honestly included (not being able to move as quickly to perform the job, not being able to lift certain objects), was used in court against him.

Additionally, the son/new business owner would give the janitor self-improvement books with the instruction to read them. Of course, being a real person, the janitor did not read them, and told his boss as such. In court, however, the son submitted this as evidence of trying to help the janitor improve his performance, but it was the janitor’s unwillingness to follow instructions and read the book that got him into trouble.

Now, some of you may read this as “If an S.O.B. employer really wants to get rid of you, he’ll be able to do that eventually, and you might as well accept it.” That viewpoint would be fair enough.

But the other side of the story is that, if you find yourself in the position of being an employee, there are steps that you can take to protect yourself.

First of all, if you are ever asked to fill out a self-evaluation form, you should give yourself the highest marks. Ten out of tens everywhere. Most people are naturally modest and have an aversion to “bragging” like that, but you need to see it through the lens of not firing yourself. By giving yourself suboptimal scores, you’re giving your employer “ammo” that could later be used against you. And when asked to cite your weaknesses, you should just write something to the effect of: “My employer has not informed me of any deficiencies with my work, nor am I currently aware of any.” If your objective is to keep your job, you don’t want to give your employer a list of things they could take to court and say, “Even he admits himself that…”

And secondly, if your employer does something hokey like give you a self-improvement book, you better read and be able to answer questions about it. Obviously, this experience is about as dignifying as going through TSA security, but it’s something you need to be aware of—you don’t want to have documented experiences of insubordination on your record. That provides fodder for a justified firing.

The judge ultimately ruled in favor of the son/business owner, on the logic that a lifetime contract has the “implied term” that the job will be performed adequately. By having documented the employee’s unwillingness to follow instructions, and citing the janitor’s self-admitted weaknesses in court, the son was able to demonstrate that the elderly janitor was not performing the job properly.

We all know this is B.S., but it’s the type of information worth preparing for. In some ways, though, this blog is a living tribute to outlining the steps that will permit you to not be in the position of that eighty year-old janitor. When buying stocks, Warren Buffett says that you should invest in companies with such strong, durable brands that even a ham sandwich could run the company, because some day, one will. In the employer-employee context, you should prepare as if you will someday have this “son” as your boss. The answer to all of these problems invariably comes back to deliberately designing your life so that you don’t have to be in these types of positions in the first place.

 

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5 thoughts on “If Your Employer Is Trying To Fire You

  1. Owner5524 says:

    I think employment should be a voluntary arrangement between two people that either one can end at any time. The worker should feel like the money he is receiving is worth more than the time and effort he is committing to the job, and the employer should feel that the work being performed is more valuable to the company than the money being paid to the worker. If either party feels that this is no longer the case, they should be able to end the relationship at any time. No worker should be forced to work a job they don’t wish to continue and don’t think is in their best interest. The reverse is also true, no employer should be forced to continue paying a worker when they feel the work (or value to the company) they are receiving from the worker is not in the companies best interest. Luckily, the two states I have lived in (and currently live in) are “at will employment” states, so either party can end the relationship at any time for any reason. Obviously, exceptions are there for federally protected reasons (discrimination, etc.)

  2. Joe_G from Seeking Alpha says:

    Tim,

    This question isn’t directly related to this post but I’d still like to get your thoughts on an investing concern that has been on my mind lately.
    To what
    extent do you view your investing life as an extension of your personal
    life?By that I mean to what extent do
    the personal morals and ethical values of Tim the man govern the investing
    decisions of Tim the dividend growth investor?If you ask your typical dividend growth investor if they would be
    willing to invest in a lucrative but immoral venture, say selling child
    pornography or crack cocaine, the answer would probably be “absolutely not”
    regardless of the yield, valuation or growth prospects of the underlying
    venture.And yet, ask that same investor
    what their thoughts are about Phillip Morris and they would probably describe
    what a wonderful investment it is and go on about why you should own it.Do your personal morals ever come into play
    when buying companies, or do you compartmentalize your conscience, wall it off
    from the part of your brain that thinks about investments, and make your
    investing decisions based on the financial prospects of the company?The reason why I’m asking is that I keep
    identifying stocks of companies that I love from an investing perspective but
    despise on a human level.I cannot in
    good conscience own any piece of Phillip Morris knowing the impact that smoking
    related illness has on the families of smokers.You might say that the smoker made his choice to smoke so you don’t mind
    taking his money, but his children never made that choice and they are the ones
    who will suffer when he dies 20 years too soon.I can think of many other examples of lucrative and growing businesses
    that I cannot and will not own because their primary mission is immoral and
    destructive.

  3. SeeJackSave says:

    Wow, this is the best demonstration of why I’m on the early retirement track. First, who wants to be working at 82? And second, what a case for f-you money!

  4. scchan_2009 says:

    Really I agree with SeeJackSave that why is that person still working at 82. While I think the judge made a reasonable judgement (life time employment into 80s … is an absurd agreement), I wished the the owner’s son had not resorted such tactics to get rid of the 82. Where I grew up from, tricking a 82 years old is highly disrespectful; why can’t the owner’s son just made a new agreement with the old guy?

    Literally a crazy old guy work for a disrespectful child and then an absurd story unfolds.

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