Convenience Store Loses Employment Case After Boss Asks Workers To Bet On Who Will Be Fired Next

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

20 thoughts on “Convenience Store Loses Employment Case After Boss Asks Workers To Bet On Who Will Be Fired Next”

  1. Anon Nurse: salient detail! One of the worst cases of racism I dealt with as a resume writer involved a small chain of convenience stores with an owner who never promoted black employees.

    I should have read more closely. Managers rarely act out like owners do. Owners think they can do whatever they like while managers at least pause to consider what their boss would think.

    However you sort it out, American workplaces are becoming increasingly feudal, with owners growing less accountable under our new Wall Street rules.

  2. I would prefer to bet on which store owner will be shot to death by a disgruntled former employee. The shooter will get $10 from each employee for improving the workplace.

  3. As a former resume writer with over 7,000 clients, the work atmosphere you describe is not at all uncommon to convenience stores. Forget racism, sexism or religious biases, convenience store managers are abused by their direct supervisors, and often pass it on to their employees. After all, when you’re “salaried” yet working 60-80 hours a week for less than $10 an hour, it’s easy to resent clock card employees who don’t do the full employee loyalty thing in exchange for crappy part-time wages and no benefits.

    Convenience stores are cess pools of wage slavery run by field bosses who are, if anything, even more abused than the bottom rung employees. Minimum wages need to be higher, and laws need to be passed forcing employers to pay overtime to so-called management personnel who have no control over their situation and who are expected to work 20-40 “free” hours a week.

  4. I rather like Noah’s take on it.

    It’s almost as if he was channeling his inner-John Stuart Mill.

  5. Bron 1, October 7, 2011 at 12:37 pm

    anon nurse:

    so the guy is a putz because he is a conservative?


    That was your take… I didn’t say that “the guy is a putz because he is a conservative — those are your words, not mine…

    I know Bettendorf very well and the story doesn’t surprise me one bit…

  6. The place is Bettendorf — the spelling is wrong in the article. It’s part of the Quad Cities and, generally, a bastion of conservatism.

  7. I’ve worked for someone easily as awful. The day-to-day toll that working in such an environment takes is astonishing. The judge, much to my surprise, made the right decision here.

  8. Bron,

    Now, if you did away with regulatory agency’s because people will do the right thing….reread what you wrote….think about it…..

    If we subscribed to businesses doing the honorable thing then as you have stated we would not need them….we only need them because of “unconscious” or unscrupulous employers….

    FYI…..Hostile work environments are not just isolated to bad economic times….they exist in good markets as well…People just don’t have to stay in a bad job as long…..

  9. From the contest memo: “Secret shoppers will be looking for cashiers…”

    Secret shoppers — a euphemism for … (fill in the blank)

  10. Oro – well I will agree with you that companies treat employees like assets. Look how mining companies treat their assets, or lumber companies. They strip what they can out of them, deplete as much value as possible and then discard the remains. The goal is to get as much value out with as little expense as is humanly possible.

    In the golden ages from 1932 till 1980 workers had unions and some government to protect them. Today workers are just like any protected resource, pillage and rape is what corporations do best.

  11. Many (most?) employers desiring to terminate an employee or reduce its workforce will first create a hostile work environment so that the employee(s) will quit and thus be ineligible for unemployment benefits.

    Employees are not a cost centers — they are assets. The employer/manager who who fails to recognize such and behave appropriately is stupid. Stupid has its consequences. It’s bad business and carries its own costs.

    Inform, train, warn, counsel, terminate for cause (just because its “good” for business doesn’t mean it’s for cause) – and be reasonable and DOCUMENT each step.

    It’s just as important that the employee file reveals a good employer as much as it documents a bad employee. Make sure the ALJ receives an employee file that makes the employer look like the son of Mother Teresa. But claims against such an employer are few and far between.

  12. the owner is clearly in the wrong and can only get away with this because of the economy.

    I would assume most of these people are young men and women barely out of high school, some in their first jobs. You have to stay on them and teach them how to work and behave in public.

    I guess he missed an opportunity to do something constructive for the individuals, his company and the community at large.

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