Going META

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  1. Avatar Damon
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    I believe that a lot of applications ask if you’ve ever been an employee of the corporation already, and they’d know whether you’d been flagged as “suitable for rehire”. Also, I think that quite a few apps already ask if you’ve ever been fired from a job before. Not having applied recently, I’m not sure on the last statement.

    Also, how will you designate “firing” from “layoffs”? It’s been my experience that “layoffs” are used not only to reduce staff during hard times, but to also “get rid of the deadwood”. Better optics, PR wise.Report

    • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Damon
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      I think the difference between firings and layoffs is largely, can you get unemployment afterwards. Even if you’re laid off as a way to get rid of you along with cutting costs, you can still draw unemployment, as opposed to say, yelling slurs at your boss or something.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Jesse Ewiak
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        You get unemployment as long as you’re not Fired With Cause or you don’t quit (unless you quit for certain specific reasons).

        If you’re Laid Off or Fired Without Cause, you can collect.

        If you were on a fixed-term contract, it depends.Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to Jesse Ewiak
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        @jesse-ewiak @will-truman

        Yep, correct. But since the employer has already paid the unemployment insurance there really is nothing, but the marginal increase in unemploy insurance rates, to laying off folks vs firing them. It’s also easier to lay off problem employees vs firing them. Also, what prevents a company from “gaming the META” by classifying a staff reduction as one thing vs another. I’m sure justifying a layoff by a change in business can be fairly easily done. Revenue isn’t flat and can be cyclical and products come and go and have life cycles.Report

        • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Damon
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          @damon

          That’s one of my worries, too, aggravated by the fact that any regulation to compel employers to show “economic cause” would risk being either hoop jumping (easy to do) or require a rather intrusive and costly investigation. Neither of which I think are desirable.Report

          • Avatar Damon in reply to Gabriel Conroy
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            @glyph

            Yep. And I can tell you as a number’s guy, I can extrapolate pretty much any sales/booking/production statistic to justify the hiring or firing of a dozen employees in about 30 minutes, all with supporting justification.Report

        • Avatar Jonathan McLeod in reply to Damon
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          In Ontario (which is META-like but with a bunch of weird exceptions that lawmakers are looking to fix), it’s not that easy to go the laying-off-in-lieu-of-firing-with-cause route. If you lay someone off because there isn’t enough work (or the company’s losing money), when you go to hire again, you are legally obligated to hire the laid off worker if they want to be re-hired (unless some other severance agreement was reached…but that’s more for higher paid positions, from what I understand).

          So if you lay off a worker, the worker has recourse if you suddenly hire a replacement (or if they can prove that there was no lack of work/financial concerns). This can be difficult, but not impossible (I was with a company and covering some HR duties when the company fired someone but listed “lack of work” rather than “for cause”, even though it was for cause…I think they were being nice. This decision by the company cost it something like $100K). (I’ve also seen a worker get laid off instead of fired when a different company was doing a big round of layoffs anyway – 2001 tech bubble – and they were just being nice. Even if he had been a good worker, he would have been laid off, so there was about zero risk in going this route.)

          In Ontario, workers do not need lawyers to challenge terminations (or other job-related grievances). The Labour Board receives complaints and conducts hearings. The hearings are more like mediation than a trial (but they’re not mediation). The one that I went to (representing that same company but for a termination we made sure was handled properly…lessons learned and all that) was just held in a boardroom.

          Workers and employers can contact the Labour Board prior to filing a complaint to get advice, guidance and information (I have read a lot of Ontario case law about terminations, as a result). The Board will give advice (not always the best, unfortunately, but usually pretty good) and lay out different options.

          If it goes to an adjudication, the adjudicator understands that employees tend to be in a more vulnerable position, and often have less understanding of their rights than employers and HR reps, so they really try to understand the employee’s side of things, and will challenge the employer a bit more than the employee. They understand the power imbalance, and work to even things out.

          That’s not to say it’s a perfect system, but it’s pretty good. I have no interest whatsoever to move from the current system to an at-will system.Report

    • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Damon
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      In addition to what Will and Jesse say, I imagine that under META, a layoff would have to be for economic reasons (“not enough work”) and in theory, the employee would be able to challenge that layoff, a procedure/claim that could bring up its own can of worms.Report

  2. Avatar Jaybird
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    To the extent that “at will” allows hirers to feel like any given job offer is less of a risk than it would be under a more restrictive paradigm, I wonder whether moving to a META plan would result in less hiring and/or less growth.

    Now, that’s not a dealbreaker, of course. Some tradeoffs are worth making… but some aren’t.

    Do we know what happened to the employment numbers of the META states?Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      You can’t look at just employment numbers, you also have to look at the hiring process.

      If it becomes harder to fire a person, I might reduce new hires, or I might just be more selective, or use a employment service.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Oscar Gordon
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        This makes me think of the “permatemp” laws that got passed in the 90’s.

        I loved (LOVED) that these laws passed until the day I had a conversation with a temp co-worker who was talking about how his manager told him “we’re going to lay you off, but we want to hire you back in 3 months. We’ll pay for your unemployment and we’ll give you a good enough bonus for you to buy a PS2 and a couple of games.”

        I realized “holy crap, he’d be better off (we’d all be better off) if those laws hadn’t been passed.”

        I like the idea of the META laws. I have no reason to believe that people will end up any better afterwards, though.Report

        • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Jaybird
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          When I worked for that large software company in the Pacific Northwest, they had a policy where temp workers could only work for a year and then could only be brought back on after 3 months. It was their response to a lawsuit that basically told them that they needed to be able to point to things where contract employees were not like regular employees. And forced time off was something they could point to.

          Anyhoo, it actually became a way of life for a lot of the people I worked with. Where else could you get so much vacation time? A few people who had moved on from that to a different kind of contract work (one where you had to supply your own equipment, which your contracting agency would actually lease from the software company…) said that they missed it.

          Go figure.

          For my part, I thought it would have been cool if I had been paid a bit more. I was offered a Real Job at the software company, but we were leaving the area.Report

        • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Jaybird
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          says:

          Temp services are one kind of employment service. But they are not the only kind.Report

        • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Jaybird
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          I have no reason to believe that people will end up any better afterwards, though.

          I’ve pondered this, too. Here is what I hope would come out of a META:

          1. Fewer firings of people for racist, sexist, etc., reasons.

          2. It would be more difficult to fire people who exercise their free speech rights outside of work.

          3. A more widespread adoption of “procedural due process” in the employment relation, such as progressive discipline. (I’ll admit this one’s a stretch, in part because medium to mid-sized companies usually do this already and in some states are quasi-required to, and progressive discipline is not all it’s cracked up to be even if it’s more widely adopted. “Progressive discipline” can in practice just be a way to arbitrarily fire someone while providing a way to make it look non-arbitrary.)

          4. It might encourage some employersReport

          • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Gabriel Conroy
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            4. It might encourage some employers

            Well, that’s embarrassing…I think I meant a META might encourage more employers to adopt something like a contract or at least a handbook that spells out the employer’s and employee’s obligations more clearly. I think it would encourage them because one thing that (I assume) holds them back is that in some states, a handbook can be interpreted as imposing a “for cause” obligation on the employer. If the employer already has that obligation, that’s one less impediment to a handbook. (Not that employers don’t issue handbooks. I’m talking about smaller employers that don’t but might if they have a reason to.)

            What’s so great about handbooks? Nothing’s “great” about them, but a good handbook spells out procedures for things like discipline and compensation (and vacation and sick policies) that are useful for the worker in trying to navigate the employment relationship. I suppose that a handbook could also be a bad thing, too, in that it might have so many loopholes to be virtually meaningless, and probably for other reasons.Report

    • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Jaybird
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      @jaybird

      “To the extent that “at will” allows hirers to feel like any given job offer is less of a risk than it would be under a more restrictive paradigm, I wonder whether moving to a META plan would result in less hiring and/or less growth…..Do we know what happened to the employment numbers of the META states?”

      That’s my fear, too, and I also see an analogy to the permatemp laws you mention further down (up?) in the subthread. (It’s the first I’ve heard of them, but what you say makes sense.) The short answer is that I hope it wouldn’t impede hiring too much. As for employment numbers, I don’t know. Montana to my knowledge is the only state that has adopted it and according to the book I cite in the OP, employment hasn’t suffered. (But then, the book was published in 2004. I don’t know if META has prevented recovery from 2008 recession.)Report

  3. Avatar Kazzy
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    Tod would be the best person to weigh in on this, but I’m pretty sure even contracts that explicitly state they are “at will” are still very difficult to fire someone from. The education world (independent school, non-union) is a bit atypical in that contracts are for a set period of time (typically one school year). However, my understanding is that this creates an ongoing relationship beyond the length of the contract. To say to a teacher, “Thanks for your work this year. We’ve decided not to bring you back and instead to hire Joe Blow,” is apparently legally akin to firing them. Even if you fully complete the terms of the contract they signed and it expires. And I’ve learned this year that it is still really hard to fire someone — even with an at will contract. Perhaps it is just the threat of lawsuits and the costs they incur, even if you win, but my employer kept insisting they couldn’t fire folks who were underperforming to the point of giving the middle finger to the boss and/or detrimental to the children. In the former case, one guy routinely came in late and then did his ‘prep work’ during time he was supposed to be available to the children. He was reminded that the school day started at 8:15 and he needed to be ready at that time and that his contract called for an 8am arrival. So he arrives at 8am but then drinks coffee and chats with people until 8:15… then starts his work. Basically, he’s flipping off his superiors. But they insist they can’t fire him.

    Maybe they’re cowards. I don’t know. But it seems to me that if you are unhappy with someone’s performance and can demonstrate that the firing is for performance related issues, it shouldn’t be much of a problem.Report

    • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Kazzy
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      @kazzy

      When I speak of the META, I’m thinking of the default contracts that most wage workers are presumed to have entered into when they take a job. The assumption is that the worker will earn a certain amount per hour, and that the worker can quit whenever he/she wants, and that the employer can fire the worker whenever he/she wants.

      I’m not really speaking of contracts such as you describe, whether they say “at will” or not. And what you describe seems to be more of a time-limited contract, and not an “at will” contract. Presumably, for the time period (school year?) the teacher is under contract, they can’t be fired “at will,” but only for cause.

      As an interesting (to me) side note, apparently some states interpret employee handbooks to be obligations on the employer, even when such handbooks have the disclaimer that “this is an ‘at will’ job and this handbook is not a contract.” That development (explained in Richard Edwards, “Rights at Work” (1990, or so) and mentioned in the book by Solomon I cite in the OP) seems to buttress your point about even “at will” contracts being something under which it’s hard to fire someone.

      Finally–and this doesn’t really address any point you made but something that I think bears mentioning–META will more likely help those in jobs that we (and HR departments) would call “permanent” jobs, although a better word is perhaps “indefinite” jobs because there’s not really any guarantee of permanency. I bring this up because META, by itself, won’t do much to help those in the “gig” economy that Saul has written about. And unfortunately, it might exacerbate the problem.Report

  4. Avatar Brandon Berg
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    How much of a problem is firing for bad reasons, anyway? I see a lot of people from the same side of the aisle claiming that both:

    a) At-will employment is an abomination, and people are fired for no reason all the time just because employers are assholes, and

    b) Dramatically increasing the minimum wage won’t have any negative effects because reduced turnover will save employers money.

    Putting aside the dubious jump from “a single employer raising wages above the prevailing wage reduced turnover for that employer” to “All employers simultaneously raising wages will reduce turnover for all employers,” it’s true that turnover costs employers money. Which is to say, they pay a price for firing without good cause.

    Given that employers already have this incentive not to fire without good reason, my concern is that the chief effect of abolishing at-will employment will be to force employers to waste a bunch of time and money defending perfectly legitimate firings of employees who are either malicious or, more likely, in denial about being bad employees.

    It would also likely cause employers to keep bad employees on longer in order to establish a case for firing.Report

    • Avatar Glyph in reply to Brandon Berg
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      How much of a problem is firing for bad reasons, anyway?

      I was wondering this same thing. The OP alludes to the usage of at-will as cover for racist/sexist etc. firings; while there is no doubt this occurs, I wonder how pervasive it is.

      I also, as usual, worry about unduly intruding on freedom of association; at-will divorce is usually seen as a good thing; we don’t require either party there to show cause to sever their relationship. And it is going to be a LOT more disruptive to my life if my wife ever “fires” me for no good reason, than if my employer does.

      It’s – as always – anecdotal; but our European offices that operate under for-cause have had some problems with substandard employees that they just can’t get rid of. Not productive enough to want to keep, not blatantly-horrible enough that they want the headache that firing them would entail. Deadwood accumulation is sort of an inevitable consequence of this approach. Nobody ever wants to believe that they are the deadwood, but sooner or later, someplace, everybody’s the deadwood.Report

      • Avatar Will H. in reply to Glyph
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        says:

        Last I saw, iirc, 43% of all civil cases filed in federal courts are title VII (employment) claims.Report

        • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Will H.
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          says:

          That doesn’t really tell us that unwarranted termination is common. It just tells us that it’s common for employees to feel, or even just allege that their termination was unwarranted.

          Putting aside cases where the terminated employee is just lying, it’s likely that many if not most of those cases are examples of Dunning-Kruger in action.Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to Glyph
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        says:

        @glyph @gabriel-conroy

        I have some knowledge and experience with larger companies and their “termination” process. Generally it takes 6 months or more to document and give “fair warning” that the employee needs to improve. This is done, of course, to CYA the company from a legal suit and all that jazz.

        In one case, I was the guy they decided to get rid of. Had a meeting with my manager 3 months after my most recent “satisfactory” evaluation. She noticed that my work performance had recently declined. (This was BS). It was clear that they were on a path to fire me. Folks in HR I knew in other companies were very familiar with the process and clued me in. I found a job before I was fired. They even game me an outstanding recommendation–proof they wanted me to go.

        The other was an under performing coworker. She was AA and female and I believe had mental health issues. She was there three years and apparently had performance issues after the first 6 months. But it took one manager with the drive and will to fire her over a year. Weekly meetings, personal coaching, documentation of everything, yadda yadda. She eventually resigned and allegedly took another job. God what a mess.Report

    • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Brandon Berg
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      @brandon-berg and @glyph ,

      You both raise good points, and I’m not sure I have a complete answer to them. (I’ll put aside Brandon’s point about the minimum wage, because I mostly agree.)

      As for how prevalent firings for no reason are, I don’t know. While we can all agree in the abstract or from very anecdotal examples that some workers are sometimes fired for arbitrary reasons, it’s not clear, even to me, that there’s an epidemic of employers hiring people and then firing them just because they can.

      I also buy Glyph’s point about his company’s European counterparts. I don’t want to create a situation where it’s so hard to fire someone. An anecdote I can cite, from a middle manager I know in an insurance company in the US, suggests that the same problems happen over here, too. Her company is very large and follows progressive discipline practices (probably for a variety of legal and internal policy reasons0, and she has told me how hard it is to get rid of demonstrably bad employees. One of my fears from something like this is, as always, that making it difficult to fire someone will make it more costly for employers to hire someone because hiring is a higher stakes game because once one is taken on, they’re hard to get rid of.

      All that said, I’m hopeful, as I said in the OP and as Glyph repeated, a “for cause” system can put some teeth into civil rights anti-discrimination clauses. And the other things I said in my answer to Jaybird above.

      None of those improvements will create a new millennium for workers. And they’ll come at some cost. But I’m hopeful that the META is modest enough and the likely costs are low enough, that a small improvement is worth the risk.Report

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