Working Notes: On the trauma of job loss, retaliatory e-mail surveillance, and Costco as the good company

Dear readers, here are three articles worth your attention:

Experiencing a layoff

In an unusually personal piece, Carey Goldberg, health writer for WBUR, Boston’s NPR news station, blogs about her experience of being laid off six years ago by the Boston Globe:

I went back to visit my old parking lot at The Boston Globe this week. For more than six years, I commuted to the Globe along the crawling traffic of the Southeast Expressway, travel mug in hand. But what I remember most about that parking lot is crying in it.

It was 2009. The Globe was in a major financial crisis, like much of the country. Brian McGrory, then the Metro editor, had just called me in to his office to warn me that I was almost certainly about to lose my job.

I held it together in his office, but then when I came out into the parking lot to call my best friend, I felt a wave of shame and insult engulf me. I knew better, but for just that moment, I felt — worthless.

She segues from her own experience to input from experts on the trauma of experiencing a layoff. It’s a thoughtful, informative post that all too many people will find validating.

E-mail surveillance as a form of retaliation

Ohio management employment lawyer Jon Hyman, blogging for Workforce Management, raises a thorny legal question. Most employers have the right to inspect employees’ company e-mail accounts. But what if an employer starts to do so with an individual employee only after she has filed a complaint or lawsuit, such as a claim of sexual harassment? Here’s part of his read on this:

Could the email surveillance, in and of itself, be an adverse action sufficient to support a claim of retaliation? The legal standard for an adverse action sufficient to support a claim of retaliation is very broad. Anything that “might have dissuaded a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination,” qualifies as a retaliatory adverse action. If you don’t regularly review employee email accounts, and only start examining an employee’s electronic activities after that employee engages in some protected activity, might that dissuade others from engaging in protected activity?

Hyman’s wise advice to employers is not to engage in such surveillance in a targeted manner.

Costco’s enlightened labor relations practices

Brad Stone, in a feature article for Business Week, examines Costco’s approach to labor relations and the management philosophies of its new CEO, Craig Jelinek, and his predecessor, company co-founder Jim Sinegal. Here’s the lede:

Joe Carcello has a great job. The 59-year-old has an annual salary of $52,700, gets five weeks of vacation a year, and is looking forward to retiring on the sizable nest egg in his 401(k), which his employer augments with matching funds. After 26 years at his company, he’s not worried about layoffs. In 2009, as the recession deepened, his bosses handed out raises. “I’m just grateful to come here to work every day,” he says.

This wouldn’t be remarkable except that Carcello works in retail, one of the stingiest industries in America, with some of the most dissatisfied workers. . . . In its 30-year history, Carcello’s employer, Costco, has never had significant labor troubles.

The Great Recession has triggered some brutal treatment of workers. That’s why it’s extra important to highlight companies that are taking a different approach.

One response

  1. Thank you for the link to the Goldberg essay. It absolutely resonated with me and I was surprised by that because I honestly had thought that being laid off (because of budget cuts) would not be as traumatic as being fired (officially – my contract was not renewed) — the outcome of bullying. That was almost 5 years ago. I was just offered a full-time position in my field and am overjoyed and terrified. Like the author, I feel cautious and expect to be vigilant but I worry about the hyper-vigilance the author describes. I agree that layoffs – even firings – can happen in a thoughtful and caring way. Too often they aren’t and that inhumane treatment adds to the stress. Although I was under contract for a year after I was denied tenure and wasn’t immediately pushed to the streets, I felt like the walking dead in that place for a year. It was awful and I would have left but it was 2009 and jobs were difficult to find and I had a spouse and 2 young kids. I’m glad that there are essays like this to express the psychological damage of losing a job — no matter how it is lost.

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