Office Manager Fired

Question:

Recently my office manager was fired by the corporate HR department for drinking at lunch and not returning to work. She had just found out that her mother had terminal cancer and had a regrettable episode that afternoon. She returned to work late in the afternoon but never stepped foot in the office, and was driven home. It was a one-time incident and she had never been in trouble with HR before, not even a verbal warning. In fact, her work performance was commendable, given that patient complaints were down and there were fewer refunds in the office during her tenure than with the previous office manager. I talked to her about the incident several days after she was fired. She realized that she had made a big mistake. However, she informed me that she had tried to fire an assistant in our office last year for drinking a rum and coke in the lunchroom and then sticking a sharp explorer in a patient’s mouth…which is practicing dentistry without a license. HR told her at the time “we will not back you if she files unemployment and you should not have fired her. She should have been given a chance to improve herself.” My former office manager believes that she was wrongly fired based on corporate policy of “three strikes and you’re out” when she only had one strike. Does she have a case?

Signed,

Want To Help


Answer:

Dear Want To Help:

Your office manager can request a reconsideration of her discharge, and argue the corporate policy of “three strikes and you’re out” should apply to her. However, I doubt that even if your company has a three strikes rule that it applies to all situations. For example, if an employee steals, assaults some one, or causes a serious fire, would that be just one strike? I doubt that it would apply. Coming to work after drinking at lunch and prompting someone to determine that she should be driven home apparently in the eyes of HR didn’t fall into just one of three strikes. HR decided failure to show up in condition to manage was enough to say goodbye to her. Does all this seem unfair and that she should be give another chance? Yes, is would seem so in light of the sad news about her mother.

Was she a good office manager before this? You say she was. Had she been reprimanded before? No. Might learning your mother has terminal cancer serve as an excuse for drinking? Yes. Might she request reconsideration of her firing? Possibly. A genuine apology and her good record could be presented in a request for a review of the action that has put her among the unemployed. I doubt that arguing HR’s earlier decision to give an assistant a second chance of the three strikes rule would do more than to irritate those who might consent to review. The facts of that situation probably are different in that the individual involved was an assistant and your office manager should be held to a higher standard.

It is kind of you to want to help, and undoubtedly your office manager appreciates your moral support. Now it probably will be best for her and you that her firing not become a matter of gossip. You and your coworkers can extend your sympathy and support for her over the next few weeks during her mother’s illness and her search for another job. Possibly some of you in the office can offer to assist in that care and also can provide letters of reference should she ask. Most of all, if you truly care for her, you can just be there as a friend.

Fortunately she and you have skills that are needed in today’s job market. One mistake, even a serious one such as being fired for drinking at lunch and not returning to work, is not enough to make her unemployable. I’m sure she will soon find another job.

Undoubtedly she will learn from this mistake and will determine that she can help shape her next workplace to be both fair and considerate. Your question is meant to do just that and you should add a star to your crown for wanting that.

If my thoughts do not make sense, feel free to get other advice and to let them spur you to find creative solutions that have not occurred to me. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.

William Gorden