Double Dare You

I recently tallied (in my head) the number of people that I have personally fired in my long career and realized that it was about 100.  Most of these were from layoffs.  Some were people caught stealing, using drugs or drinking on the job, or threatening people on the job.  And some were people who (as corporations like to put it) were "managed out", which is a genteel way to say "fired because we didn't like them for some reason".

In my career I resisted the last category as much as possible and in general only did it if it became a "them or me" situation and then sometimes I took the bullet myself, even though I knew that the targeted worker would not long survive me. But many of the layoffs were about managing out people as well. (This even happened to me and since I knew what was really going on and my boss knew that I knew, we simply exchanged the ritual words and got on with it.) There is an art to firing, as I shall relate.

I bring this up, because I have seen two things going on with this administration that stink of the genteel art of firing or harassing someone for a bogus reason and getting away with it.  These bother me, not only because I don't like to see people whacked or slapped around for bogus reasons, but when I see things like this become part of policy, I know that massive actions are coming up.  (I am such a corporate man).

Before I go into them, I'd like to tell you about how my companies fired people because they were too old, too gay, too Black, too Hispanic, too female, too crippled, or too sick.

It's not hard to fire people in America.  Part of it is that unions are mostly dead and workers work at an "at will" basis.  At will is a fancy name for unprotected, and in theory one can be fired at any time just because.  However, companies are worried about their images and they at least want to look like they are being fair.  But far more important than this, they not only want to look like they are being fair to the public, they want to look like they are being fair to a judge.  For the main thing is to not get sued.  I can think of several dozen cases I have seen where companies have fired people and should have gotten sued to death.  But they weren't.  In America, while we have all sorts of rights, we can't exercise many of them without going to court.  And companies know this.  They count on it.  If they fire someone in a terribly obvious and unfair manner, they run the risk of the person finding a lawyer so outraged that they will represent the person for free.  Large corporations know that as a second line of defense they can marshal large law teams.  But the problem is that when they do this, there is the possibility of word spreading.  This can bring on both bad publicity and more tag along clients and pretty soon there could even be a class lawsuit.  So companies will build a case based on incompetence, load it full of paper, and proceed.

The two things I mentioned that remind me of this are noting that President Elect Trump has a history of suing people just to force them to court and have to pay for the privilege of defending themselves.  In this case, he bullies the weak, who can't go to court, and he dares the strong to face his lawyers mano e mano.  For most corporations (and we can sort of view Trump as a corporation), the publicity might be daunting.  But Trump seems to actually like this.  He's a very vindictive person (another of his non-Christian qualities).  We can expect to see more of this, especially when he has the executive branch at his disposal.

The second thing is that Trump's Congress (and it is very much his) has revived an ancient and nasty rule called the Holman Rule, invented in 1876.  This rule 

empowers any member of Congress to propose amending an appropriations bill to single out a government employee or cut a specific program.

Congress can now cut someone's pay to one dollar (without actually having to fire them directly).

As Trump loads his cabinet with people who want to abolish all or parts of the agencies they are supposed to represent, this law can be used to, say, knock out people who promote radical ideas like man-made climate change.  While such nastiness would have to be approved by Congress and the Senate, I believe that we have such a nasty Congress and Senate.

In my career, I have seen people bullied out of work by the company, say, by sending their job to a distant state and inviting the worker, if he wants to keep it, to follow it (and pay his own expenses).  Or people are invited to take demotions while performing the same job.  Or (one of my favorites) a rule that claimed that ten percent of any work group was underperforming by definition so it was required that ten percent of any work group had to both receive no pay increases or bonuses and also had to start receiving "corrective actions", which were negative performance reports. Managers would use this all the time to start knocking off people they didn't like, for example, people who objected to the manager lying and cheating on reports and such.  The rule was applicable to all teams of whatever size, even if the team had three people.  The idea was that the unlucky third person contained that rotten ten percent and must be punished.

The point is, Trump and his Legislative branch don't have to go around changing laws.  They can eliminate or harass who they don't like the old fashioned way; by constructing some legal sounding excuse to harass or fire people and then dare them to sue.  Double dare them, in fact.

unagidon is a contributing editor to Commonweal.

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