Workers Quit After Boss Starts ‘Guess Whom Gets Fired Next’ Contest

This was an office pool of an entirely different variety.

When 57-year-old William Ernst, the manager of a QC Mart convenience store in Davenport, Iowa, decided to have a little fun with his employees, he didn’t quite appreciate the extent to which he was toying with their psyches.

As was first reported by The Des Moines Register,Ernst sent a memo to his employees in March asking them to guess whom the next cashier to be fired would be. The winner would get a prize of $10. Presumably the contest was even open to those on the chopping block.

“To win our game, write on a piece of paper the name of the next cashier you believe will be fired. Write their name [the person who will be fired], today’s date, today’s time, and your name. Seal it in an envelope and give it to the manager to put in my envelope,” Ernst instructed them.

The workers were not amused, and at least two employees sent letters to company managers crying foul over the contest. They proceeded to quit and filed for unemployment benefits. And according to a report by UPI, Ernst was not amused and stepped in to challenge the claim. He argued that those leaving the convenience mart were doing so voluntarily.

The dispute reached Iowa administrative court, where the court ruled in favor of the workers.

“The employer’s actions have clearly created a hostile work environment by suggesting its employees turn on each other for a minimal monetary prize,” Judge Susan Ackerman said. “This was an intolerable and detrimental work environment.”

As a Reuters report notes, unemployment insurance is not available to workers who leave their jobs on their own volition. But many states will grant benefits in cases in which an employer causes a worker to quit.

In order to demonstrate such an environment, the worker’s case must meet a bar of intolerance. In addition to a hostile work environment, other common reasons for employer-forced departures include discrimination, humiliation and employer retaliation. Add firing pools to the list.


About internalmarket

This blog and its accompanying Twitter account have been established as social media learning tools for the Internal Communications and Employee Engagement class at Columbia College Chicago. Through this blog, we will share our observations about current events, change management and employee communications theory, and the application of social media in shaping employee engagement.
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