Does any employee believe that interrupting a meeting of company executives and mooning them would not get you fired? Well, we found one who does, and he even went to court over his belief. His story is a good reminder about handling awful behavior and terminating employees the right way.
As reported yesterday, Jason Selch worked for an asset management company that, through some mergers, became a subsidiary of Bank of America. He was upset with his proposed compensation after the merger. He got even angrier when a co-worker he liked was fired after refusing to accept a lower compensation plan. So, Selch decided to protest in his own, special way — he burst into a meeting of executives and, after confirming he was not subject to a non-compete, he mooned the executives and left.
Amazingly, at first Selch was not fired. His boss felt Selch was a particularly valuable employee and should get a second chance (and thus be allowed “one free mooning”). Selch’s boss just gave him a formal warning. However, when the subsidiary’s CEO learned of the incident, he required that Selch be fired. The CEO concluded that no one could commit such an outrageous act and keep their job.
Pretty sensible decision. But then Selch — surprise! — sued over his termination, and his claims were not what you might expect…
Selch’s termination cost him a multi-million dollar bonus that was contingent, in part, on his remaining at the company a few more months. To try to get his bonus, he sued, claiming that his termination was a “breach of contract” based on his formal warning. The warning said he would be fired if he misbehaved again, but in between receiving the warning and his actual termination, he did nothing wrong. He also claimed his mooning was not “cause” for termination since it did not affect his official job duties.
Not surprisingly, the trial court rejected his claims that his termination was a breach of any contract or that there was no cause for his firing. An appeals court agreed, noting that the mooning was “insubordinate, disruptive, unruly and abusive.”
The outcome is not surprising. But the case highlights some important reminders for terminating employees.
First, don’t make disciplinary decisions in haste. Even when an employee’s misconduct is obvious, indisputable and egregious, there is no need to rush. Take time to review the situation. Remove the employee from work if necessary. Include all management necessary in the decision, and ensure they all agree. Had Selch’s boss told upper management about his idea to just warn Selch, he would have been overruled and helped to see why termination was necessary and appropriate. The warning here was ridiculous, and it ended up allowing a sly (though unsuccessful) argument by the employee.
Second, making exceptions — even for extraordinary employees — is risky. While some employees are more valuable than others, there are lines no employee can be allowed to cross.
Finally, it is always best to have a good, business-related reason for a termination and to communicate it to the employee. Even if the employee is like Selch and won’t see it your way, or will try to get creative with the facts and the law, having a good, clear reason for the termination will certainly work in a court of law.