When Incompetent Management Does Bad Things Under the Cover of a Global Pandemic

John Hollon COVID-19, employee experience, Employee Relations, Employment Law, Lawsuits, Layoffs

I love that FOT Grand Poobah Kris Dunn is taking names and kicking keisters by calling out how badly some companies are handling employee layoffs and furloughs during our “global pandemic economic meltdown.”

How so, you ask?

His recent Fistful of Talent post — How S**t Got Sideways as Companies Fuurloughed/Laid off People in the Coronavirus Meltdown — offers great insight into how some business leaders and their HR brethren took a bad situation and made it a whole lot worse.

You really should read it, because KD is always in his element when he puts his CHRO hat on. He’s savvy, wise, and worth paying close attention to.

So, I’ll surf off Kris and his insights and add my own 2 cents about some similar behavior I’m seeing out here in Southern California — how some employers are using Coronavirus-fueled layoffs as a way to permanently can people they would rather not have back when normal life returns again.

Let me give you a specific example of what I’m talking about.

Making laid-off people re-apply for their job

Here’s a text message that the general manager of some fairly well known restaurants in Southern California sent to his staff last month (typos included). I’ve withheld identifying information to protect the guilty and the clueless:

“As you all probably already know, both (restaurants) have been temporarily closed. We have LAID OFF all employees for the time being. You are all rehire able.. As soon as I get a re open date, I will let you know when to come in and re apply (emphasis added).

I know things are difficult, unpleasant and unpredictable, but we all will make it through. Any questions  or problems with your final checks please call me or (name withheld) at the restaurant. Please use the self addressed envelope to send back signed paperwork.

Thank you and take care.”

Know what jumped out at me from this text message? It’s that employees are going to have to reapply for their jobs! This is the first clue that the company is looking to make “staff adjustments” under the cover of what employees think is a temporary mass layoff that will end as soon as the coronavirus lockdown is over.

An “Exit interview” without the interview

The second hint that this might be more than a temporary layoff pops up in this follow-up letter that the company sent to all employees:

Re: Layoff, Effective March 25, 2020

Dear Team Member:

Unfortunately, we are all impacted by COVID-19 and are forced to closedown and Layoff. We want to thank you for being part of our (name withheld) Team throughout the years and wish you and your family all the Best. Stay healthy, live long and prosper.

Please read, sign and mail the signed copy of the Notice of Layoff and Termination Exit interview back to us in the self-addressed stamped envelope provided. Please keep the additional copy of the Notice of Layoff, Termination Exit interview and the EDD notice for your files.


(name withheld)

Besides the goofy Star Trek salutation of “live long and prosper,” I was puzzled about the “Termination Exit interview” and the form that management wanted the laid-off staff to sign. It isn’t long, but again, it’s pretty telling about what management is thinking:

I (employee name here) have no unreported work-related accidents, incidents or injuries of any type, both physically or mentally.

I do not have any problems or claims of any type against (company name withheld) and or its employees and management.

(Employee signature)

Why sign your rights away … for nothing?

Then it adds this second section that ALSO requires an employee signature:

By executing the above I hereby release (name of company withheld) in full for the entire term of my employment. I realize and agree that should I take any future action against my (former) employer that I will be criminally and civilly liable to my former employer and its insurance companies.

(Employee signature)

Hmmm … how does a “Termination Exit interview” — and by the way, there was never any actual person-to-person interview — turn into a general release of any current or future claims against the company? And why does the company want this and feel they should get it for free?

I would understand getting employees to sign something like this in exchange for a severance check, but there was not any payment of any kind made to the rank-and-file servers, bartenders, cooks, or other employees of these two restaurants.

It shows incredible arrogance — hutzpah, really — for management to try to get employees to sign something like this gratis, and it makes you wonder why any employee would ever agree to sign all their rights away … for nothing.

And, it makes a mockery of the notion of a “Termination Exit interview” because there was not an “exit interview” for any employee whatsoever. The “Termination exit interview” at the top of the release form was just a term used to induce naive employees to willingly sign all their rights away.

Covering for years of terrible management

Here’s my take: Kris Dunn, in his FOT post, zeroed in what’s wrong with so many of the layoffs during this crisis when he listed his three (3) “overarching principles/realities” starting with “1.\You don’t do layoffs or furloughs in groups.

I’ll say it again — you really should read KD’s post because he tells it like it is.

I don’t know what he would say about the layoff I detailed here, but I’d be surprised if he didn’t start shaking his head at the details.

What I do know, because I have closely watched this company for years, is that senior management seems to be using these layoffs as cover for getting out from under a number of potential lawsuits from now out-of-work employees.

How do they know they may have potential lawsuits? They know, I’m guessing, because they seem to have finally awakened to the fact that they have a lot of festering issues with their restaurant management team.

In fact, they have the worst possible combination — passive management from the top combined with verbally abusive and incompetent assistant managers below who seem to have been hired because they wouldn’t ever question their generally non-engaged boss.

This policy of non-management allowed a few opportunistic and unethical rank-and-file employees to run wild, violate company policies at will, and generally do whatever they wanted — without ever being challenged by restaurant management. Of course, this caused angst and anger among the great majority of the staff who just wanted to work hard, be treated fairly, and do their job.

You can’t make this stuff up

With so little attentive management, all sorts of bad stuff happens — abusive behavior (including inappropriate touching and physical assault), employee theft, and a hostile work environment. Employees who have been on the receiving end of such behavior sometimes wake up to the fact that they have legal recourse when something happens to the status quo — like a company-wide layoff.

And, that’s why this restaurant company is now telling its laid-off employees they can “reapply” for their jobs and trying to use that carrot as the ONLY thing those employees MIGHT get for signing their rights away.

As the great humorist Dave Barry used to say, you can’t make this stuff up.

Kris Dunn put it like this: we need to “be bigger than the crisis, and bigger than anyone in our company that just thinks it’s all about the numbers.”

He’s absolutely right about that, but there are organizations out there that will use this current crisis as cover to do bad or dumb stuff. In the case of this restaurant company, they’re trying to cover for years of bad management by using an economic crisis to try to wiggle out of their responsibilities to employees who may have been wronged by their years of inaction.

I’m betting they don’t get away with it. And yes, you really CAN’T make this stuff up.