In(ternet) Justice? Maybe Not.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

One of my favorite business writers brings the voice of sanity to an internet brouhaha I was blissfully unaware of until this morning. Writing at Inc., Suzanne Lucas cautions those who want "justice" for a woman fired by Cracker Barrel to be careful of what they wish for. This she does by means of the following hypothetical press release:

After 12 years with us, John's work began to slack off. We coached him, but he didn't respond. He was late 12 times since January. We encouraged him to take advantage of our Employee Assistance Program. Still, he missed his deadlines, was rude to other staff, and couldn't manage to do quality work, so we kicked him to the curb. We won't fight unemployment, but we won't give him a positive reference either. [links omitted]
Lucas is not accusing "Brad's Wife" of any of John's deficiencies, but brings up this situation (and other possibilities, including options for this employee) as things to consider about this cause célèbre, which is really between two parties to a private contract.

Perhaps the greatest irony of this story is that we have a mob demanding "answers", while seemingly being unable to step back for a moment, as Lucas has, to consider what reasonable possibilities exist, be they in terms of the justice of the firing, the terms of employment, or the most effective options available to either party. On the last score, Lucas covers a good one for the former employee. But also, consider what can of worms caving in to this petition would mean for Cracker Barrel and any future hires. Cracker Barrel would open the door to anyone who was fired to raise a stink in order to be reinstated. Plainly, the company would be faced with a choice between being saddled with bad employees or having to change its hiring practices (or employment agreements) to prevent this from happening.

But back to the irony: What good, given the evident lack of thought here, would such "transparency" really do? The implicit premise is that Cracker Barrel is in the wrong. The mob has made up its "mind." Any answer offered to it will be unjust or a lie, as far as they are concerned -- unless it's to give in to what they want. And then the same mob will be happy to go on making other demands. Whose business is this, anyway? More important, if this company is really such a horrible octopus, why would anyone want to go back to its embrace? Those are questions for the rest of us.

I will close by noting that mobs are composed of individuals -- individuals who have allowed themselves to be worked up into a state of anger, and so perhaps are not thinking clearly. Perhaps the best thing one can do, when something that sounds like it could be a gross miscarriage of justice comes up, is to remind oneself that righting any injustice takes time. Part of this time includes the time to carefully weigh evidence, including opposing points of view. Don't let a mob or some agitator stir you up enough to "do something" (even if it's only to click a button under some petition) without taking a day or so to calm down and think about it, first. If righting injustice deserves action, it deserves deliberate action, starting with a just assessment of any evidence on one's own part.

-- CAV

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