My name is Brad Root and I'm a software engineer, music aficionado, video game junkie, and occasional unicyclist.

In my spare time, I build open source software, and write about my experiences as a programmer here on this blog.

You can also find me on Twitter, GitHub, and LinkedIn.

People Can Be Dishonest About Work

A couple of years ago, at another job, I hired this guy for a data entry position. He seemed like a decently smart guy who could type fairly quickly, even if maybe he was a bit of a bro. He was at the company for well over a year, I'm pretty sure, but my memory is pretty shoddy. He'd earned "Employee of the Month" twice in one year, which was something we debated about and wasn't just a random pick!

Then one morning, he didn't show up to work. No call, no email, nothing. The next day, he still wasn't there. I'm pretty sure it was this day, or the next, I called his emergency contact: his girlfriend; just to make sure he was okay! I wasn't trying to be a nosey up-your-ass manager or anything, it was unusual for him to just no show... plus we needed to know if we needed to hire someone else...

His girlfriend answered the phone. I told her who I was, her boyfriend's manager, and that we hadn't heard from him in two or three days and we're just checking in to make sure he's okay? She said, "Uhh, hold on a second," and hung up the phone. When I called her back (maybe we'd gotten disconnected?) it went to voicemail.

At this point it seemed pretty clear that he wasn't going to come back to work, so we set about looking for his replacement. Pretty lame that he did that, but who knows why people do the things they do? A week or two later, the company got the paperwork from the unemployment office for him. He's trying to get money from the EDD!

The company explains to EDD: No, he no-called, no-showed, he probably shouldn't get unemployment. And then the guy tells EDD: I was actually secretly fired by my manager on the morning of insert date here. But I was his manager! And I didn't do that. I don't know if he elected for it or if it just automatically happened, but a hearing in front of a judge was scheduled for a week later. Normally the company wouldn't have gone to such great lengths to deny someone unemployment, but he just flaked out. Very uncool.

The first absurd thing about the story is that he was a good employee. I had been a manager long enough to know that it's a pain in the ass to hire people, and it sucks when they're not good employees because it's such a waste of time and energy. The last thing I'd want to do is willingly get rid of a good employee. And we had proof he was a good employee: emails I'd sent to others about him; emails I'd sent to him directly, praising him; and the aforementioned two time Employee of the Month receipts.

I also had a bit of an ace up my sleeve: we had security cameras everywhere. He knew this, because he used them sometimes as part of his training. So, trying to be well prepared for the 'hearing' or whatever it would be, I sat down and I exhaustively recorded my whereabouts on the day in question. I noted down every time I left my desk, where I went, how long I was gone, and who was in the rooms with me where I was. I was almost never alone, and always on camera. I'm pretty sure I also prepared a statement, in addition to the email 'evidence packet', just to be thorough.

Unfortunately, the truth about this guy is that while he was a good employee, he wasn't a happy one. He had bigger aspirations. When getting to know him, I'd asked him what he most wanted to do, for work, with his life, or whatever. He said he wanted to be an entrepreneur. An entrepreneur of what? I asked. He didn't have an answer, it didn't matter, he just wanted to be an entrepreneur.

He wasn't happy that he was a 'lowly' data entry person. We'd tried to get him involved in the inventory security program we had, but looking at camera footage bored him. He asked at one point if the company would pay him while he learned how to grow marijuana, so he could become a sales person and make more money. The company said no, we won't pay you to learn to grow, but we'll give you access to our training program documents so you can learn on your own. Disappointed, he declined the offer. Unfortunately for him, there just weren't any open positions in the company he'd be a good fit for, so he was stuck doing data entry.

This is mostly just making fun of him, but I'll allow it: one day a nearby company put out a pallet of 3M foam earplugs, boxes within boxes, a couple hundred earplugs a piece. We all took a couple boxes. He came to work the next day saying he was going to sell the earplugs online, with photos of Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump glued to them, as a novelty gift, with statements like, "the holidays might get loud this year!" or something. This idea never actually got off the ground.

The day of the hearing, I arrived with the HR assistant and we sat at a long table. My former data-entry clerk was sitting directly across the table from us. Some judge sat down at the end of the table taking notes. I honestly don't remember who spoke first, but the story was pretty simple: He alleged that, sometime on the morning in question, I walked upstairs to where he was working, walked him down through the building, through the back offices, out to the back of building by the street, and told him we'd no longer be needing his services, and he immediately walked down to the bus stop and left.

So I asked him, what time did this happen? And I don't remember what time he said, but it didn't matter, I responded: Well, I have this chart here I made of where I was, and who I was with, for every moment of the day, and at no point was he anywhere to be seen. I submitted that shit into evidence, which wasn't as dramatic as it sounds when you say it that way, all I did was hand it to the judge. The judge asked him if he had any objection to it, and he said of course, and explained that I was in charge of security cameras--true--so I could fake the whole thing or just make up a list. The judge didn't find that very convincing.

I also shared the fact that we knew he wasn't happy, but that otherwise he was a good employee as evidenced by the internal emails, emails to him, and the Employee of the Month awards. He said that we gave out Employee of the Month awards just to quiet down unhappy employees, which is only true sometimes, and may have been why he received it twice in one year without us noticing...

I also asked him some of the more obvious questions: who else witnessed me walk through the building with you? Why didn't you go back upstairs to grab your huge bag of pistachios and other snacks, or to say bye to any of your co-workers? And when I called two days later, and your girlfriend answered, why didn't you talk to me or call me back?

The judge really jumped on that last one, saying: yeah, if this guy fired you, and then called your girlfriend 'pretending' you no-showed, wouldn't you wanna cuss him out or something? Give him a piece of your mind? He didn't have great answers to any of these questions, beyond that he was upset and confused about what happened, so he didn't want to talk to me or anyone.

At the end of the hearing the judge said, I'm pretty sure this is verbatim, "This is a peculiar situation. Two people who have entirely, completely different stories. But you both seem credible. He seems credible, and he seems credible. Very interesting."

Obviously, we received word the judge ruled in our favor a short time later, and rejected his claim for unemployment. He then appealed, this time with a new story. If I remember correctly, he suggested that one of his former managers (before me) didn't like him, and that they were using me to fire him because of it. None of that came up in the hearing, though, and after review of the case by another judge his appeal was rejected.

I don't manage people anymore, and I'm kind of very glad that I don't. I might have had a worse than average experience, because the company wanted to pay people the bare minimum amount needed to hire someone, anyone, and I ended up with employees who were often lazy, dishonest, and manipulative. You'd think being dishonest would take so much effort it'd be better to just do the job you're meant to do, but no.

Prior to this guy, I was used to employees telling bald-faced lies directly to my face, usually ones I couldn't quite prove. But this was the first time that those lies directly involved me, saying I went and did things that I definitely didn't. Luckily, I was sitting in front of an impartial judge, and at absolutely no personal risk whatsoever, so if I failed to prove that fact it wasn't that big of a deal.

But, in different circumstances (like if I worked for a larger company), he could have written a Medium post, or talked to a reporter, and voiced his fabricated mistreatment to the world at large. I could just imagine how the article would account, in detail, his alleged mistreatment ("they wouldn't pay me to learn...") and the day I led him outside and fired him, maliciously, leaving him destitute and dependent on his girlfriend.

And then there'd be a single sentence at the end of the article: "The company denies these allegations." That'd be all the defense I'd get, that the company would be legally allowed to give itself. I mean, I probably wouldn't be named, but I and anyone else working there would know he was talking about me, which could hurt me. Luckily, I'm awesome, and that wouldn't hurt my feelings too much. But there's other people out there, less awesome, and more susceptible to hurt feelings.

The point is: when it comes down to it, sometimes people can be dishonest about work. That can be work they did in the past for other people, or work they're doing right now, for you. People who seem to have a relatively normal level of dysfunctional habits can suddenly, one day, just do something completely unexpected when there's money on the line. It's important to be aware of this, and not just blindly trust everyone who cries mistreatment at the hands of a company. Sometimes, not always, they're just a grifter, looking for sympathy and a handout.