One pervasive observation, by me and other small business owners familiar with this case, has come out of this almost 13 year long experience and that is the sense of entitlement coming from the M and the attorneys that represent him or in a broader sense that of any opposing counsel in an employee retaliation case. The entitlement behavior is that they are entitled to say all manner of things about you the owner of a small business and the business itself without recourse, but you the business owner better not defend yourself publicly or it will be another act of retaliation. On the other hand the employee and attorneys can through their legal actions accuse you of fraud and to the unaware that paints a very broad picture of bad activity. I think we need to turn the ship around on that. The company that employed M is now destroyed. And now the entitled are pursuing other companies and me for telling the story.
To a small business owner, the business itself represents years of nurturing and investment, trials and tribulations, success and failure. It is not static. You don’t open your doors and realize immediate success. Quite the contrary. And so when someone attacks your business you are defensive. As an owner you are not in control of everything that everyone does in your company and there is always risk. A business is not the equivalent of a child, but owners do typically have a family like affection for their small business.
Imagine if you will that you are a working Mom. You have a business and you work from home. You have two children and your best friend, who lives next door, also has two children. The children are the same age, 4 & 6, and play together all the time. You love your children and adore your friends children as well. You feel blessed with your life.
An employee who has worked with your company for a few years has been doing less than stellar work for you and you have decided to let that person go. The employee is in a key role and it is imperative you find someone with stronger skills. Just before you let them go in fact the employee attempts to withhold key data from you and so its time. So you give that employee her notice of termination in writing, send the termination letter in the mail as well as send an email and talk to her about your decision. In order to facilitate and assist your employee in finding a new job, you give her 6 weeks notice, but require that no there will be no disruptive behavior. This is a necessary part of being a business owner. It is not easy and it is not fun, but it does need to be done. But there is an uncomfortable peace. Your soon to be ex-employee is not happy and she works from your home office quite a bit.
Weeks pass. One workday your children’s school is closed because of snow. They are at home playing outside with your best friend’s children having a great time. Your friend comes by and asks if you can watch her children while she runs to the store and of course you agree to do so. Happy to do so. But soon after your friend heads to the store the weather turns worse and it is best if the children come inside. You get them inside and they are all soaked and cold and freezing. You get some warm towels and get the wet clothes off of them as best you can, being a Mom to all four children.
Your ex-employee notifies you the next day that she observed you inappropriately touching your neighbors children and calls on you to cease and desist from such behavior attaching a photograph of you wrapping a towel and giving a hug to one of the children. You immediately notify your neighbor and share the email. You also immediately notify the police.
A short time later an attorney representing your soon to be former employee sends you an email notifying you that said employee has filed a criminal complaint with police and informing you to not retaliate. You get a call and email from the police as well and you reply as you would expect an innocent person to reply, which is by all means investigate, the allegations are false, the employee was recently terminated and you believe this to be an act of employee retaliation. You are heart broken.
The police ask the employee to turn over the evidence, photo’s supporting the claim. But she does not. You do turn over the photo provided by your former employee and the police investigate. Your neighbor comes to your defense. You are innocent. You would never hurt any child. Your friends rally around you. While innocent of the allegation, it nonetheless changes your life. It hurts you deeply. The scars of wisdom are painful.
It is clear your employee wants to use this event to reverse the termination decision. It is never clearer to you that the destructive nature of this employee has likely hurt your company for some time and time is ticking. Frankly her last day with your company cannot come soon enough. On her last day she returns the business computer and other equipment provided by the company and you hope this is the end of a bad chapter. The computer she returns in void of important programming she has worked on for the last year and more importantly that critical programming is no longer on any other business computer, nor can it be found on back up discs. The faith you have placed in the former employee was shattered weeks ago and this latest destruction of property is an exclamation point and it will cost you a lot to fix. Little did you know that it would shut your business down for a week and cost you close to $100,000.
Do you turn the other cheek?
I say no. If you do there is no guarantee that the abuse will stop. But you think about it for a bit trying to decide if its worth pursuing the employee for this damage. It’s not. Learn your lesson and move on. Turn the other cheek. And you do.
But soon you have no choice. Your former employee hires an attorney and sues you for Retaliation and Wrongful termination, terms of art in the legal world. The former employee is asking for $1 million in damages and she has sued your business corporation and you personally. You get notice of the lawsuit from an attorney friend even before the legal paperwork arrives. The public attention to you and your business for this unfounded attack will require some action to maintain your reputation. Your competitors will attack this and its such a horrible allegation. Turning the other cheek did not work. The first of a thousand sleepless nights begins now.