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Would You Copy Xerox's Employment Practices?

This is a bitter sweet success story about a guy named Viren Shah who graduated from Seneca College in computer electronics. As luck would have it, in 1981 Viren landed a job with Xerox that stretched into 14 wonderful years. During that time Viren held several positions and received good performance reviews, bonuses, and pay increases on a regular basis.

Things were going so well that in 1995, when Viren applied for a better position in the corporation, he was rewarded with a new job as a technical support analyst within a department the corporate culture dubbed the The Advanced Solutions Organization. Very impressive!

Viren wanted to move ahead in the corporation and that is exactly what happened. The true story that follows is an example of that old adage...."When the gods want to punish you they answer your prayers".

Viren's new boss was a man named Mike Harvey. Harvey was described as confident and assertive to the point of being combative. He was tough-minded, a quick thinker, and very articulate.

Viren on the other hand was described as gentle, reticent, introspective, emotional but uncomplaining, and a little withdrawn. Prior to the promotion Viren had worked effectively, principally on his own, and often from home.

Can you see where this is heading?

The policy The Advanced Solutions Organization team adopted was described as "empowerment". Under this policy, each employee was encouraged to become the "owner" of the tasks allotted to them. It was intended to increase efficiency of team members by fostering independence and entrepreneurship. It also required the team to work together.

Everyone on the team except Viren was instructed to report to the team's production manager, a man named Jerry Low Foon. For some reason, which was never explained, Viren Shah was told to report to the combative, quick thinking Mike Harvey, and not to Jerry Low Foon. Viren was also excluded from the team training sessions and was never fully integrated into the team. He became the odd man out and was uncertain as to whom he should report. Not surprisingly, Viren found this new policy somewhat confusing.

Within months of accepting the promotion, Jerry Low Foon was complaining about Viren to Mike Harvey and Harvey, in turn was writing letters to Viren Shah, expressing his displeasure with Viren's performance.

What followed over the next few months were meetings back and forth, and warning letters from Mike Harvey to Viren Shah.

The complaints about Viren came from Jerry Low Foon to Mike Harvey. The complaints ranged from not completing tasks and assigned work in a satisfactory manner, to being absent from work without cause and without notification to the corporation. Mike Harvey never took the time to investigate the charges and none of the accusations and complaints were ever substantiated at the trial.

To make matters worse Viren had legitimate health issues of his own as well as family health issues, including the fact that his father was so ill he had been placed in intensive care at the hospital. When Viren requested 6 weeks off without pay to deal with these issues, Harvey turned him down flat.

In the end, it was all too much for Viren Shah and he sent a resignation letter to Mike Harvey.

Mike:

This letter is to inform you of my official resignation, effective immediately as a Xerox employee.

As you are aware, due to personal reasons, I requested ...a leave of absence for a period of six weeks. This request was denied by yourself and followed by a letter putting me on probation. I have reached this decision because the demands of my personal affairs, the innuendo and ambiguity of the current work environment, and the denial of the leave of absence. Additionally, my latest illness has been treated with some scepticism which has resulted in a suspension of pay therefore my resignation is effective immediately.

I have enjoyed working 14+ years for Xerox and I have always met the job requirements and often exceeded them.

Regards,

Viren Shah

So there you have it. Viren is unhappy with his workplace, and quits. You would think that should be the end of the matter. Nobody asked him to quit. He did it on his own.

Under those circumstances, Viren quitting...and not being fired...should he be entitled to damages?

At the trial the Judge found that Mike Harvey, who was very different in personality and temperament to Viren Shah, put pressure on Viren from the time The Advanced Solution Organization was put together. The Judge found that Harvey's approach was authoritarian and impatient and that it was not conducive to resolving the problems of communication for which Harvey had the greater part of the responsibility.

The trial judge went on to say that Mike Harvey's ".... failure to discharge his managerial responsibilities and his behaviour toward Shah made the latter's position intolerable and I find that he was constructively dismissed without cause".

As a result of the constructive dismissal, the judge awarded Shah Viren one year's salary. He also ordered that Viren's benefits should be included for the full year and that Xerox should pay his court costs as well.

Lesson to be learned:

1) There are two sides to every story.

The employer, in this case, felt that because he was paying the piper he could call the tune.

The other side of the story is that, in this particular case, the employee felt he didn't have to face the music.

2) Employment issues are very tricky.

Both employers and employees would benefit from legal advice prior to terminating employment. The best results are often knowledge-based and strategic legal information can best be obtained from a lawyer who practices employment law.

At The Ross Firm, we have lawyers whose practice focus is employment law.

Give us a call.

Talk to us.

We can help.

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