At-Will Employment (part 5)
Are you convinced yet? My final war story illustrating why you are never safe if you work for someone else.
The Unwitting Thief
David was a dream employee. A salesman for a manufacturer, his sales always far exceeded projections. His loyalty to the company was manifest – he had worked there for 30 years – even though the company did little to earn such loyalty. For example, the company continually reduced his sales area, knowing that David would somehow find a way to wring more sales out of whatever area was left to him.
One sales technique David had used very successfully was to conduct motivational presentations at the retailers that sold his company’s product. He would work the salespeople at the stores into a selling frenzy, resulting in more sales by them and more orders for him.
One day he gave one of his presentations to the sales force of his major client — a client that represented 80% of his sales. The presentation was a big success, and while the sales people were still applauding, he scooped up all his notes and materials and put them in his briefcase. What he did not know was that he had inadvertently picked up some paperwork belonging to the customer. The documents regarded about $30 in repairs that the retailer had made to some of the products, and for which the retailer was entitled to reimbursement by David’s company.
This “theft” was witnessed by some fresh out of high school, “Third-Assistant-Night-Manager” who decided that the salesman had intentionally taken the documents in order to save his company the $30. No doubt he was sure that if he reported the foul deed, he would get a raise, and thereby be able to afford more pimple cream.
Later that day the salesman discovered the documents in his briefcase, and immediately called the customer to say he was sorry, and that he would bring them right over. It was then he got the shock of his life. He was informed that the customer had already called David’s manager and asked that he be replaced. The customer didn’t feel David could be trusted anymore. More shocking, without any hearing, or even discussing the matter with David, the boss had agreed. The customer was such a major account, that the boss did not dare say no. He had already assigned the account to another salesperson, who coincidentally worked under a much lower commission schedule than David. So, for accidentally picking up some documents, David was stripped of nearly $100,000 per year in income, without any warning, hearing, or even a chance to tell his side of the story.
Obviously, David could sue, right? Well, let’s consider that for a moment. Who would he sue; his employer? Let’s all say it together. The employer did not need a reason to fire him, so it certainly did not need a reason to remove him from an account. And, indeed, even if David could show that due to his longevity with the company, there existed an implied agreement that he could only be “demoted” for cause, arguably the employer had cause. David had taken the customer’s documents, albeit inadvertently, resulting in a very angry customer. If the employer refused to replace him on the account, it ran the risk of losing the account. If you believe the law requires a company to forgo millions of dollars in orders out of loyalty to an employee, you really do have a skewed view.
How about suing the company that insisted he be replaced? Again, he did take the documents, and there is no law that says someone must work with a salesperson they no longer trust, no matter how groundless that distrust may be.
David went attorney shopping, and while several were willing to represent him on an hourly basis, the fact that none would handle the case for a percentage of the judgment properly indicated to David that they were not confident of the result. He eventually opted to go into early semi-retirement, working as a consultant for one-fifth of his prior income. He left the company he had worked thirty years for with nothing – not even a retirement party or gold watch.
My life affirming moment about self-employment came one day during lunch with a friend. My goal since my freshman year of college had always been to open my own law firm, which I did. I was having lunch with a friend who at age 43 was a high-ranking mucky-muck at a bank. He was very depressed, and explained that he had just come from his evaluation, which had not gone well. He was afraid he would either be demoted or terminated.
It struck me at that moment what a ridiculous concept it is to work for someone, putting them in a position where they get to decide your worth and future. Like an errant child, you have to sit and be lectured periodically about the bad things you have done. Life Tip #1: Grow up and become master of your own destiny by being your own boss.