Q. I work for a hyper-controlling boss. Because he knows I'm really good at my job, he rarely messes with me. This morning, however, he sent me an ominously worded email telling me to meet him in his office at 11 a.m.
I emailed back asking, "What's up?" He replied, "We need a brief talk."
My internal Geiger counter was starting to click, so I emailed "topic?" No reply.
I know my boss has set up others, and I recently crossed him by not telling him what a co-worker said about him. I need to protect myself. Can I tape what he says? And isn't there a rule that I can take someone in with me?
A. In one-party-consent states like Alaska, either party in a two-person, face-to-face communication can legally tape the other with or without his knowledge or permission. Still, you might want to consider the relationship effects of walking in and plunking down a tape recorder on your boss' desk.
You actually can't bring someone with you unless your boss is okay with the idea. After the 1975 U.S. Supreme Court decision, National Labor Relations Board v. J. Weingarten, Inc., gave unionized employees the right to have a representative present during a disciplinary meeting, most thought Weingarten rights also protected non-union employees. In 2004, the labor board ruled specifically that Weingarten rights don't apply to non-union employees. So you'll be on your own.
To protect yourself, avoid jumping to conclusions or becoming overwrought beforehand. Fear impedes clear thinking. Regardless of what your boss says, avoid any severe reaction immediately. Instead, take careful notes. If your boss does try to set you up, collect and use evidence that reveals the truth. If none of this works, vote with your feet. Who wants to work for a hyper-controlling boss who sets up employees?
Q. One of our warehouse employees got carried away with April Fool's Day. Even though it was Sunday and not a work day, he couldn't resist calling three managers and telling them he'd seen a fire as he drove by the workplace. He told them he had called the fire department. All three managers took off for the office, leaving their families. One left a home-remodeling project at a bad juncture, and another missed church.
When they got there and saw each other but no fire, all three realized they'd been had. They called a meeting this morning and asked that I terminate the prankster for ruining their Sundays. Can we fire him without bad repercussions? What if he sues to get his job back, and a jury decides we lack a sense of humor?
A. Your employee's prank crossed the line into "not funny" when it hurt other employees' personal lives. Unless other significant facts protect this employee, employment "at will" allows you to choose the penalty of your choice - including termination.
While April Fool's jokes can add fun to a workplace, some do real harm. When a National Railroad Co. employee sprayed his co-worker with a high-powered compressed air hose as an April Fool's joke, he accidentally killed him.
In a less tragic case, a clothing store employee called her manager and told him armed men were robbing the company. The manager had already called the police when, minutes later, the employee called back shouting "April Fool's!" The police charged the employee with unlawfully inducing panic.
Occasionally, managers play jokes that backfire. After a Hooter's restaurant manager gave a Star Wars "toy Yoda" action figure rather than a Toyota to the winner of an April Fool's Day contest to sell the most beer, the unamused waitress sued for breach of contract and fraudulent misrepresentation. She received enough money to buy multiple Toyotas.
The bottom line: tell your employees and managers that if they must joke and prank, stick to jokes and pranks that bring a smile -- and don't come close to harming others.
Dr. Lynne Curry is a management-employee trainer and owner of the consulting firm The Growth Co. Inc. For questions, Curry can be reached at www.thegrowthcompany.com.