Call it Survivor: Bettandorf. There is an interesting employment case out of Bettandorf, Iowa where a former convenience clerk was able to secure unemployment benefits after quitting an owner called “the boss from hell.” William Ernst, the owner of a Bettandorf, Iowa-based chain of QC Marts, created a contest where employees would guess which one of them will be the next one fired. The prize was $10. Misty Shelsky of Davenport, Iowa, quit rather than play along and recently won a ruling from an administrative judge to secure unemployment benefits.
Ernst issued the memo to workers in March that read, “NEW CONTEST – GUESS THE NEXT CASHIER WHO WILL BE FIRED !!!” Workers were told to write the name of the next cashier they thought would be fired, along with the date and their own name on a piece of paper. He added “And no fair picking Mike Miller from Rockingham. He was fired at around 11:30 a.m. today for wearing a had [sic] and talking on his cell phone. Good luck!!!!”
Shelsky quit with two other employees. Ernst then opposed the paying of unemployment benefits, which are generally lost if you voluntarily leave employment. However, Shelsky insisted that this was a hostile work environment and forced her out. Yet, Anna DeFrieze, a supervisor with QC Marts, insisted that the contest was an effort to concentrate the minds of employees who had not responded to repeated warnings. It was directed “toward employees, like Misty herself, who refused to follow the rules. If you’re breaking the rules you need to stop. They’re repeatedly told not to use their phones while working. Bad language is unacceptable. Playing video games, unacceptable. … None of them was doing their jobs. ”
Administrative Law Judge Susan D. Ackerman, however, ruled that Ernst “clearly created a hostile work environment by suggesting employees turn on each other for a minimal monetary prize.”
While I have no sympathy for Ernst, I wonder how far this ruling will go. I am familiar with hostile work environments created by racism, sexism, and other forms of prejudice. However, this is based on an obnoxious, if not toxic, boss. It is a situation that can be claimed by millions as the basis for constructive termination.
What do you think?
Source: QC Times