Formula for Disaster: Bad Union + Bad HR = Bad Employee Kept Too Long

by Michael Haberman on May 16, 2011 · 3 comments

If ever there was a formula for disaster in Human Resources it is one that includes a bad union contract plus bad HR . Let me give you an example of what I mean.

A local bus system’s workers are organized by the Amalgamated Transit Union. They had negotiated a contract with the bus system that had major restrictions on what conditions could result in the termination of an employee. It allowed bus drivers to have have accidents. At least three preventable accidents per 2 year period were allowed. It allowed drivers to be late, absent, impolite and verbally abusive up to a certain level before they were disciplined or fired.

HR was no better. First they allowed such a contract to occur, much to their shame, regardless of who actually negotiated the contract. Secondly, they investigated complaints against the drivers, apparently labeling many of them as “not valid.” And in the case of the bad employee in my title they let that driver’s record get to 420 pages before the driver finally did something so egregious the driver was finally terminated, naturally after a hearing. After all this is not only union but it is also government.

The bad employee in question had, as mentioned before, a 420 page personnel file full of complaints from riders, reports of being verbally abusive, rudeness, several accidents and a long list of tardiness and absenteeism. Finally, the driver committed an act that managment, HR and even the union could not ignore. The driver pulled away from a bus stop while a woman’s arm was caught in the door of the bus. The passenger was dragged 63 feet. After opening the door to let the passenger’s arm free the driver then drove away without checking on the passenger. The passenger was bloodied and bruised. The driver was later arrested by local police for the traffic violations.

BUT GET THIS! The driver was not terminated for this act! The driver was terminated for conflicting testimony when questioned about the accident. The reason for termination was the act of lying not the act of dragging a passenger or for leaving the scene of an accident but for lying about it.

I was flabbergasted when I read this story in the local newspaper. To me HR should have stepped up along time ago and said “It is obvious we have a bad employee here. This person is not suited to be a driver and interact with the public. Union you would be better served not having this employee around and we the bus system would be better served without this person around and certainly the passengers would be better served.” But that did not occur. Instead they let a toxic employee continue to work putting the riding public and the public in general in harms way. I find that totally unacceptable. But that is what happens when HR has no backbone, the organization is run by politicians and the union has the upper hand. Ask the 62 year old woman dragged along the street when the driver should have been terminated.

The lesson in this is that letting bad employees continue to work is harmful. We all know there are employees that know the limits of the “law” or rules and they push those limits. They harm the organization, their coworkers and in this case the public. Sometimes you have to step up and say “the rules be damned we are getting rid of this person.” Better to fight the fight than to keep them onboard.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

chris aka newresource May 16, 2011 at 10:40 am

Well, hot damn! I’m fired up reading your resolution…Reminds me of the first “Rush Hour” movie where the police chief, tell Chris Tucker’s character “Every once and a while we need to blow (crap) up to let everyone know who they are dealing with” (something like that) point being, you are right! We are too reactionary and lazy cause we don’t want to fight. I am all for letting a person mess up and get a mountain of evidence, but sometimes we need to get in there and mix it up.
Good stuff!

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Buzz Rooney June 7, 2011 at 11:23 pm

This is almost unbelievable! However, having dealt with my share of toxic employees, it is all too real.

I agree with you 100% about the importance of addressing unhealthy work relationships directly and removing the person. An organization — especially HR — should not allow an employee to get away with gaming the system to the detriment of the purpose of the system.

You are a great storyteller, Mike. Thanks again for another great post!

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