Fire at will.
There’re a lot of really shitty things that companies can do to you. Thankfully, the last five years or so has finally seen a lot of light being shined on them.
For instance, if you’re a woman, evidently it’s been perfectly okay to pay you significantly less money than if you were a man doing the same job. I’m glad this issue has been brought into the foreground and I’m hopeful that progress will be made.
It’s not really surprising. Women get the short end of the stick in pretty much every aspect of society except for having to open doors and priority seating on lifeboats. Sure, you make less money than I do but I have to open all of my own doors. And at sea, you, madame, have the upper hand.
Gays get pretty screwed by companies too. It’s good that attention is finally being paid to the fact that there are people in the workplace who aren’t treated fairly because their boss doesn’t like what they do in their bedrooms. I’m not okay with homophobia because I’m a huge supporter of gay rights. Also, this is a problem because without a gainfully employed and relatively affluent LGBTQ community, how are we going to know which up and coming neighborhoods to gentrify?
Companies can totally screw you over if you’re black. I might be a lot of lousy things like not particularly bright, prone to laziness, at times stubborn and Jewish. But at least I can keep all of that on the down low at interviews.
If you’re black (and trust me, people will know when you’re black) you’ve been so screwed over, passed over and fucked over for so long that they literally had to create a whole new job title to try and address it. Chief Diversity Officer. God bless those brave Chief Diversity Officers. Finally, something is being done. They’re out there making a difference for you, black friend.
And of course, companies can also fuck you over for being old. That’s called ageism and I think baby boomers must have invented it because before them you used to be able to get really super old and keep working. You’d wear a monocle and constantly check your pocket watch but people still valued you. They had a name for it. They called it experience and it was a good thing. But now it isn’t. So don’t go getting old. That’s a terrible career move these days.
So, in addition to fucking you over for who you are, what you are and how old you are companies can do a bunch of other shit to you. They can make you take personality tests, listen to positivity quotes, attend their parties, adapt to their culture (code for rules) and lots of other stuff—some of which takes place on weekends and at night when your family is having dinner.
They can also fire you. And that’s what I want to talk about.
I’m not against firing. If someone deserves it, I say fire the shit out of that person. I’ve known lots of people who could’ve used a good old fashioned firing.
I was working at an agency one time and I was helping run a very large account. It didn’t start as a large account. It started as a small one. But my friends and I worked our butts off on it and it grew. A lot.
But then, something weird happened. Someone on our side fucked up. It wasn’t me or any of my friends. It was someone much higher up than the people who actually did the work. But whoever it was, it must have been a bad one because the next day, the client yanked the business and me and a dozen or so of my friends got laid off. Which sucked.
I’m not sure exactly who it was. At best I can narrow it down to three people who might have made the mistake that caused all of us to lose our jobs. But what sucked more is that none of those three people lost theirs.
I was thinking that whoever did the deed would get fired too. So, to be clear, I’m okay with firing.
What I’m not okay with is that companies, in every state except Montana, can fire you without giving you a reason.
It’s called fire at will.
And it’s wrong.
I’m not saying it’s wrong to be able to fire whoever you want, whenever you want, for any reason you want. But I am saying it’s wrong to not to tell the person being fired what that reason is.
If you’ve ever gotten fired and been told by the person who’s firing you that they’re not going to tell you why, then you know what a psychological mind fuck it can be. Especially when you run through the mental checklist. Did I embezzle something? Nope. Did I touch someone who didn’t request touching? Nope. Was my work praised repeatedly by the client and occasionally but reluctantly by my boss? Yes.
It doesn’t leave me with a lot of options other than they just didn’t like me.
And even that would have been fine with me if they’d just said it.
“We don’t like you, Jeff. Get your shit and get out of here.”
“Cool. I don’t like you either. When did you say I’d get that severance check?”
I could have accepted that. But instead, I got this.
“Jeff, we’re firing you.”
“We’re not going to tell you. We don’t have to. We’re fire at will.”
So then, not only are you left without a job—but even worse, you’re left without closure. Which fucks with your head. For a long time. And makes you angry. To the point of having weird Quentin Tarantino style revenge fantasies. Which I would never act on, of course, but I can see where if a person were a little off their rocker it could cause a problem. So not only is fire at will cruel to the employee, but it could potentially be detrimental to the company. Which doesn’t seem like best practices to me.
Even criminals are told what they did wrong before they’re sent to jail. And you’d have to be a complete bastard to break up with someone and not tell them it’s because you can’t stand them anymore. Yet a company can take away your livelihood whenever they want and give you no explanation. That’s inhumane. Unethical. Cowardly. And stupid.
I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman and get paid less for the same job a man is doing. I don’t know what it’s like to be LGBTQ and know that I’ll never get promoted because the boss thinks I’m icky. And I certainly don’t know what it’s like to be a person of color, a minority, an immigrant, a disabled person or anything worse than being Jewish and knowing my boss cracks jokes about me in the locker room at his Waspy athletic club.
But I do know what it’s like to get fired and given no reason. It’s traumatizing. It stays with you for a long time and festers. It causes more stress than the actual loss of employment. And it needs to be put out on the table of horrible things companies can do to you.
There is no limb sturdy enough, for me to walk out on and say that fire at will is as bad as sexism, homophobia, ageism or racism. But with those, at least you know who the real asshole is.
Perhaps, fire at will is more along the lines of ghosting or farting in someone’s office on purpose. But when a company you did good work for, grew revenue for and even participated in their bullshit team building exercises tells you to hit the bricks and then pleads the 5th, it’s time to call that shit out.
And I want to know where the Chief Diversity Officer is for that.