Let My People Go


Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of Ordinary Times. Relapsed Lawyer, admitted to practice law (under his real name) in California and Oregon. On Twitter, to his frequent regret, at @burtlikko. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.

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55 Responses

  1. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Welcome to the Second Gilded Age. During the First Gilded Age, employers liked doing this sort of bullying micromanagement all the time because they could get away with it. Many attempted to control what employees could do off hours as well in order to enforce Protestant morality on them.Report

  2. Avatar James Pearce says:

    “It is so easily characterized as a gesture of unmitigated spite that I have difficulty seeing how it could possibly have been done in good faith.”

    Only a company called WaterSaver could come up with this one.Report

  3. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    I also can’t understand why employers think that having perpetually physically uncomfortable employees would be a good idea. You might as well expect them to starve during the work day and get rid of lunches.

    It’s the Iron Law of Wages in action, getting the most out of employees while giving the least back. I understand that the globslized world is competitive but having employees do the pee dance isn’t going to help.Report

    • Avatar Road Scholar in reply to LeeEsq says:

      Well yeah. And it can also be injurious to health, leading to bladder infections and such. Not to mention that you could end up on disciplinary report for the crime of suffering from a bout of constipation.Report

  4. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    I seriously don’t understand what marginal gains employers think they will get from this. Yet HR and Management seems to get involved with these sorts of things over and over again.Report

  5. Avatar morat20 says:

    Good luck with that class action suit. SCOTUS has really cut down on their usefulness.

    In any case: Why do they do this? Why not. It sounds good on paper, and with unemployment stubbornly high and productivity stubbornly high, the employees are unlikely to complain to much. And it works, and bonuses all around for the managers — or it doesn’t, and nobody’s hurt except the employees.

    Who are completely, easily replaceable.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to morat20 says:

      Fish that. With facts like these, If I couldn’t do a class action suit, I’d do 75 individual suits, one for each and every woman there.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to morat20 says:

      Also, in sobriety, I don’t think it works. I think it’s counterproductive to productivity and thanks to the necessarily associated transaction costs, a drag on profits.Report

    • Avatar Patrick in reply to morat20 says:

      Who are completely, easily replaceable.


      You haven’t worked at a company that’s followed that management scheme for a while?

      ‘Cause it’s murder on the bottom line. Replacing employees is neither easy nor are the replacements a 1:1 tradeoff.Report

  6. Avatar Jaybird says:

    I would figure out some way to poop in the hallway.

    Wait, wrong post.

    I would figure out some way to pee at my desk (yay, jumbo drinks from sonic! The Styrofoam is much gentler than the plastic cups from McDonald’s) and find strategic places to pour out a little in the various potted plants around the building.

    Or I would have, in my youth.Report

    • Avatar Patrick in reply to Jaybird says:

      I’d hack the card readers.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Patrick says:

        While it would be fun to have management call in that jerk from accounting to ask him why he went to the bathroom 74 times yesterday on 5 different floors (“the data do not lie”), I’m more hoping for a *sniff* *sniff* “do you smell that?” experience on the part of upper.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Patrick says:

        Do the card readers simply log time, or do they actually control access?

        Because if they control access, hacking them could def. be a way to make management “feel the pressure”.

        Give those brownshirts some matching pants.Report

    • Avatar Jim Heffman in reply to Jaybird says:

      “smell that?”

      (next week)

      CORPORATE ANNOUNCEMENT: All employees are reminded that they are personally responsible for maintaining a pleasant work environment for their fellow workers. Let’s All Pull Together and make this a priority! Anyone who is found to have an unpleasant odor at any time during the day will be required to bathe immediately under the direct supervision of an HR representative. Remember, we’re one of Fobes Magazine’s Top Ten Places To Work(*)! Let’s keep it that way!

      * (tied for ninth place in 1998)Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

      Does anyone else remember that est-parody movie with Burt Reynolds?Report

  7. Avatar Will Truman says:

    A previous employer of mine turned this into an art form. Not the one I posted about that you mention, but a different one. They, too, monitored restroom breaks. Before I got there, they used to have a Wall of Shame where they would post the worst bathroom offenders and how much time they were spending in the bathroom. Somebody convinced them to take that down.

    They still had a system that for every room, hallway, or elevator you entered you had to punch in who you were and where you were going. And if you saw somebody that you needed to talk to and followed them (deviating from your course) a flag would go up and your boss would get an email. You wouldn’t get in trouble, necessarily, but you’d need to explain yourself.

    They found a way to make it work for them, though. I think the 300% turnover was baked into their recipe for success. Worked out decently for a lot of employees, to, because if you ever needed a job in a pinch, they were always hiring.

    (Notably, unlike WaterSaver, this was a white collar employer.)Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Will Truman says:

      I’m really glad I decided to get into small law than normal white collar employment. Working in a corporate environment like this would drive me batty.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to LeeEsq says:

        @leeesq To be fair, this was a pretty exceptional outlier. They are notorious in the area (at least in IT circles) as a place to go and work for as long as you can stand it if you’re in a pinch.

        One of the perks of the job is that they give you five very nice polo shirts with the company’s logo. It’s been almost fifteen years and I still have four of them*. They’re just fantastic. Whenever I am back home I wear them around town. Inevitably, I am approached by a stranger asking “When did you serve?” and we talk about the place.

        So most places aren’t nearly so bad. In fact, this company ranks very high on some “Worst Places In The Country To Work” surveys. (Should you run across one that includes a bunch of notorious big name employers and one you’ve never heard of… that one’s the one.

        * – The fifth? I gave it to a nigh-homeless meth addict in Deseret. Because I liked the idea of a nigh-homeless meth addict wearing a shirt emblazened with their corporate logo. And the dude needed clothes.Report

    • Avatar veronica d in reply to Will Truman says:

      @will-truman — Remind me what industry you are in, because these things you describe sound to me Kafkaesque.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to veronica d says:

        I was an IT generalist*. This was a business software company (as was the one I previously referred to with the hangups about break rooms and tattoos). Both very conservative, obviously.

        (I mention above the nice polo shirts that the former employer gave us. They gave us five so that we would have one to wear every day of the week. We didn’t have to wear them, but if we didn’t wear them we were expected to wear a business suit. Even if our job was in a network room spending a lot of time on our knees behind computers. So, in order to avoid having to wear a suit in the hot southern heat, everybody who could wore the polos.)

        * – The job in particular was a network operations job. I later worked primarily in QA but this was before that. I was a web programmer (of sorts) at the break room company, though later got my start in QA at that company.Report

      • Avatar veronica d in reply to veronica d says:

        @will-truman — You deserve better. I hope you’re now away from places like that.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to veronica d says:

        Thanks, V. Right now I am a stay-at-home dad, so I mostly report to a two year old. She is a more flexible supervisor.Report

      • Avatar veronica d in reply to veronica d says:

        I imagine more adorable as well. 🙂Report

    • Avatar Troublesome Frog in reply to Will Truman says:

      Another case of management measuring the inputs to productivity instead of actual productivity. This is especially weird in a factory environment where it should be insanely easy to measure most workers’ productivity and leave the rest to manage itself.

      Faucet makers don’t sell “professionalism” or “low breakroom use” or “efficient use of the restroom.” They sell faucets, and presumably most of the people at the factory have some measurable output that actually goes into making and shipping those faucets.Report

    • While I’m talking about these people, they had the most interesting intraoffice dating policy. It was encouraged! They’d even throw a party or something whenever two employees got married. It was understood, however, that if one of you left the other was expected to go.

      Along those lines, they had a list on the breakroom wall of people who left the company. It was pretty heavily implied that it would be a bad idea to socialize with these people.

      My roommate at the time worked at the company. When he was fired after having been caught sleeping (he worked the overnight shift), I actually got a visit from a VP (this is in a company with thousands of employees, but a VP visited me) to let me know that I had a future with the company but it would be a good idea if I made other living arrangements.

      Once upon a time, when I was blogging under my real name, I actually blogged a running commentary of working there. I never named the company, but people knew who I was talking about and I attracted readers who had also worked there. It made for a lot of great posts.Report

  8. Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

    I’d be curious to hear what prompted the company to go this route. In my experience it’s either A) Someone is abusing their restroom breaks and taking an excessive amount of time or B) They don’t know how to really improve profitability so they are doing stupid things like limiting bathroom time.Report

    • Avatar Jim Heffman in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

      “I’d be curious to hear what prompted the company to go this route.”

      The management at one of my sister’s former employers started complaining that people weren’t getting their work done on schedule. The employees replied that they didn’t have enough time to get the work done. The management responded by blocking all outside web access and hiring someone to minotor emails because, they reasoned, there would be plenty of time to get things done if the employees weren’t such a bunch of goof-off slackers.Report

      • Avatar Jim Heffman in reply to Jim Heffman says:

        monitor, not minotor, although it’s amusing to consider the notion of emails getting to their destination because a tiny monster is chasing them through the fiberReport

      • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Jim Heffman says:

        That’s the kind of stuff I would imagine they are worrying about but man, talk about low-hanging fruit. Every company has waste but starting there shows they really don’t understand basic quality improvement principles.Report

  9. Avatar Kazzy says:

    Well, what stands out to me is that they DID monitor bathroom usage and found it to be excessive at 6 minutes per day. Really? That’s excessive? While the swipe cards alone are problematic, if their implementation saw usage top out around 6 minutes a day, I can’t see why they were upset. If employees were spending an hour a day in the can, I could see wanting to get to the bottom of things. But 6 minutes? Jesus.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Kazzy says:

      It’s not clear to me that the 6-minutes-per-day rule came from anywhere than out of something that would normally only be exposed in those restrooms, @kazzy . And technically, it’s a 60-minutes-every-10-days rule. If they gathered data and found that people were in there for roughly six minutes a day, and then back-engineered the rule to fit existing experience and usage, that would be at least colorably a reasonable way to approach the issue (assuming that the issue needed to be reached at all, a proposition of which I am deeply skeptical).

      Alsotoo bear in mind that this came up in the context of re-negotiating a memorandum of understanding with the Teamsters union, or at least preparing to do so. One tactic I’ve had clients suggest in fits of childish pique is to create and impose an unreasonable rule on the workforce, so that management can then remove that rule as a “concession.” This is an unfair negotiation tactic under NRLB, and I expect when the complaint is made available for public inspection, we’ll see that’s what the Teamsters allege management has done here.

      And let’s not forget that management might say that employees were indeed deliberately misusing the bathroom as a way to avoid working, and find some sort of statistic to back it up — once they started using the swipe cards, they noticed lots and lots of people in the stalls for fifteen, twenty minutes at a time.

      I… um… doubt that the actual evidence will back up claims like this. (That’s a polite way of putting it.) But maybe.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko says:

        “One tactic I’ve had clients suggest in fits of childish pique is to create and impose an unreasonable rule on the workforce, so that management can then remove that rule as a “concession.””

        Sports leagues often seem to do this. It is believed that Roger Goodel never really wanted an 18-game schedule (or at least didn’t during the last CBA negotiation) but he made a big public show of wanting it so he could concede ground on it during actual negotiations. I realize that is slightly different than actually imposing a rule and then relaxing/abandoning it, but it still feels like playing dirty.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Burt Likko says:

        I realize that is slightly different than actually imposing a rule and then relaxing/abandoning it …

        It’s also pure speculation.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko says:


        Of course. Good point. I’m thinking more about the optics of the situation. Which are not inconsequential when billionaires fight with millionaires over a ball game.

        If you understand how negotiations tend to work, you’re less inclined to see the NFL’s overture as one offered in good faith.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Burt Likko says:

        If you understand how negotiations tend to work, you’re less inclined to see the NFL’s overture as one offered in good faith.

        How does “good faith” enter into it? They make an offer, the other party counters it, they move or they don’t. Good faith has nothing to do with it.

        If you mean that owners weren’t serious about an 18 game season, well, I’d like to see the evidence for that. 18 games means more revenue, no? There’s your good faith for ya. 🙂Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko says:


        If Roger Goodel says, “We want an 18 game schedule,” knowing they don’t really want an 18 game schedule and only want to say that so they can “concede it”, I’d call that bad faith. And I read some sources that said they knew that to be the case, which is why I’m willing to consider such speculation.

        FWIW, I think the NFL does want an 18-game schedule, but wasn’t prepared to make it happen this go-around. So they planted the seed AND gave themselves a stronger negotiating position. A little sleazy but, I mean, this is professional sports: everyone’s hands are dirty.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Burt Likko says:

        which is why I’m willing to consider such speculation.

        Sheesh, we’re arguing over whether it’s speculation or not and you concede that it is!

        Kazzy if it’s so obvious that the proposal was cynically made I’m sure the PA was aware of what you are, no?

        You seem intent on both plastering Goodell and the owners with bad faith even as you concede that judgment is based entirely on speculation. What are you trying to accomplish by doing so?Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Kazzy says:

      Look, Kazzy, we already give employees breaks. 1/2 hour for lunch, and two 15 minute breaks. So they can spend an hour a day in the can if they want, but those 7 minutes they’re pissing while on the clock are our time.

      Of course I’m not serious, but I think remembering that employees have legally mandated breaks in which they can whiz does mitigate the outrage a little. It’s not truly like the employees have to hold their pee all day. But it is a dumb move if you actually want to get employees to give their all for you. I suspect the company’s learning about real shirking now. And, lord, if you have an employee with prostrate problems, or those days you kind of have the runs…Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to James Hanley says:

        Sure. I wouldn’t consider it objectionable if an employer wanted to talk to an employee about 60 minutes a day spent in the can (though I hope they’d do so in a way that was discrete, respectful, and open to the idea that there was a legitimate issue). But 6 minutes a day? Eash.Report

  10. Avatar Kazzy says:

    I’m a little surprised we didn’t hear this idea originated in a school somewhere.Report

  11. Avatar Matty says:

    I once worked for an employer who required that whenever you rang another of their offices you fill out a form. Not about the call, that would be too reasonable, this form set out exactly how you would have got there if you had instead traveled to that office to speak with the colleague in person. The idea being to record exactly what the company was saving in travel costs and the safety benefits of fewer employees on the road.

    I thought that was absurd management but this is a new level.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Matty says:

      “I called this guy in Australia every day for a month to talk about my idea for a Paul Hogan movie. That saved the company so much they promoted me!”Report

  12. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Apropos of nothing, yesterday I was struck by a pain about an hour after lunch and the handicapped stall in the abandoned-on-Fridays part of the building had The Wall Street Journal draped over the handrailing.Report