December 10, 2023 at 3:49 am

Toxic Employee Demands To Represent Themselves In Termination Hearing After Union Rep Warns Her That’s Not A Good Idea

by Trisha Leigh

Source: Reddit/AITA/iStock

If you’ve worked at a company where the union plays a large role, then you’ll get exactly what this story of a poor, put-upon union rep is funny.

If not, it’s still funny. Promise.

OP has been a union representative for a government agency for 25 years, and sometimes he thinks he’s seen it all.

As I talked about the last time I posted in here, I work in a union shop, and I’ve been a shop steward for most of my 25+ year career.

In that time, I’ve seen some stuff, both figurative and literal, and every single time I’ve ever been unwary enough about how fate works to utter the words, “Now I’ve seen everything,” the universe will inevitably hand me its beer and say Watch This.

Stewards, despite the general perception of us, aren’t there to defend employees who are accused of misconduct – we’re there to defend the collective bargaining agreement, meaning if you’ve well and truly ruined yourself and your future with the agency we both work for, my role is primarily helping you determine which of your options for leaving you’re going to exercise.

I’ve been at this rodeo for a long time, and management and I generally have a pretty good understanding of how things are going to go.

Then a case like “Jackie’s” comes along, and teaches him something new that he never wanted to learn. She was referred to him and he went in blind.

Enter Jackie.

Jackie was one of those unbelievably toxic peaked-in-high-school-cheerleader types, with just enough understanding of what our employer does, how it’s required to behave within federal guidelines, and what its obligations are when you utter certain mystical phrases like “I need an accomodation,” or “discrimination based on a protected class.”

To be clear, those things are not just law, they’re also morally right to be concerned about, and so my employer actually bends over backwards and does backflips to be certain that they’re going above and beyond the minimum.

Jackie was not a minority in any sense – she was female, but in a workplace that’s 80% female, that doesn’t quite count. She may well have been disabled, but that was undiagnosed, I think, and I’m inclined to think her claims of it, much like most of the rest of the things she said, were complete fabrications.

The point at which I got involved was at the tail-end of over a year’s worth of actions by Jackie, in which it rapidly became apparent that her manager was, in fact, an excellent candidate for canonization.

I got referred to her when one of my other union friends contacted me and said, “Hey, Jackie so & so just got put on administrative leave, and it’s total BS, can you help?”

I get referrals like this a lot both because I’ve been around forever, and because I have a pretty good track record for ensuring that people accused of stuff they haven’t actually done get treated fairly, so nothing stuck out to me as odd.

I contacted her, and she had absolutely no idea why management would put her on admin leave, without any warning, and confiscate all of her agency-issued devices, access, and instruct her that she was not to have any contact at all with anyone she worked with during work hours.

Before the first meeting he talked with her, let her know the ground rules, and assumed he would be able to be useful.

This immediately sent up a whole host of red flags – for one thing, I know the senior HR guy that is the HR analyst’s boss who’s involved, having been down the road of difficult-situation-but-this-is-what-we-can-do negotiation with him many, many times over the years.

I don’t always agree with him, but he’s fair, and usually we can come to some sort of middle ground – at any rate, he would never suspend someone out of the blue without a really, really good reason.

She knows what she’s done. She has to… I gave her my usual spiel of Things To Do And Things You Should Not Do:

Don’t tell me, or our employer, things that aren’t true. Especially if you think it’ll make you look bad if you don’t.

Don’t talk to your coworkers. Don’t talk to your friends about this, particularly because you live in a town of under 2000 people, everyone knows everything about everyone else.

Do not talk with management, or HR, without me present. Period.

When they do start asking questions, keep answers simple, to the point, short, and do not give lengthy explanations – tell them what they want to know and otherwise shut up.

I have been here and done this many times. I know this process very well. I can’t tell you what they’re going to do, but I can tell you what I think they’re going to do, and I’m usually either right or pretty close to being right. I have been surprised.

It turned out the woman had committed several fireable offenses and there wasn’t much he was going to be able to do except negotiate the terms of her termination.

Nearly three weeks went by of radio silence from the Agency, other than a bland sort of “We want to talk with Jackie about utilization of work assignments, tasks and equipment,” email that tells you almost nothing while still being literally true.

Finally, it was go-time for a meeting, and I did something I haven’t done in a really long time – I physically drove to Jackie’s worksite instead of attending virtually, over an hour and a half each way. What the heck, the weather was nice.

We met ahead of going in, and I asked her if she remembered the rules I gave her at the beginning. She said she did. I asked her if she’d been following them, and she said she’d been very careful to. Swell. In we go.

During the meeting, it was almost immediately obvious to me from the questions they started asking that Jackie was in serious, serious trouble.

Not, like, written warning, or pay reduction….no, they were going to go for termination, and she was probably going to be very lucky if they decided not to refer it to the DA for criminal prosecution. An abbreviated summary, of just the high points:

  • Jackie had hundreds of confidential documents and electronic files in her personal possession, many of which fall squarely under HIPAA. She had emailed these out of the government system to one of the four or five personal email addresses she maintains. Her explanation for this was…questionable.
  • Jackie had logged overtime without permission. A lot. And, on one memorable date, when she was vacationing in Europe with her family at the time – she said she’d called in to attend a meeting, but didn’t have an answer why that meeting had apparently been 11 1/2 hours long and nobody remembered her attending by phone.
  • Jackie had audio-recordings of disabled and elderly people with whom she was working, that she had taken without their consent or knowledge. A lot of them.
  • Jackie’s overall work product and system activity reliably showed that she was logging in at the start of her day (from home), and she worked some in the afternoon…but there were hours and hours of time when her computer was idle. She explained this as participating in union activity, which I knew was BS, because…
  • Jackie is not a steward. Jackie has no idea what the collective bargaining agreement actually says about much of anything beyond “stewards can do whatever they want, and management can’t say anything” which is….uninformed, shall we say.
  • At any rate – steward activity must be recorded and time coded as such. Jackie has never attended steward training and so didn’t know this. Apparently nobody ever told her that.

There’s more. There’s so, so much more, but in the interests of brevity, I will summarize the next four months of my dealing with this woman by pointing back to the cardinal rules I gave her, and simply say…she broke every single one of them. A lot.

Before the final meeting, though, she told him she had other ideas.

When it finally got to the dismissal hearing that comes before the “you’re fired, GTFO” letter, she told me going in that she wanted to run things, because she had some stuff she wanted to cover that she thought I probably wouldn’t be a) comfortable doing (true, because it was irrelevant), b) didn’t know much about (again, true, because she’d invented details, story, and witnesses as participants), and c) she felt like I wasn’t really on her side in this to begin with (not quite true – she was a member, so my job is representation here).

Me: “I really don’t think that’s a good idea. I’ve done a lot of these, you should let me handle it.”

Jackie: “No. I know what I’m doing, and I talked with my attorney about this a lot. You can’t stop me.”

Me: “You’re right. I can’t. But this isn’t going to go the way you think it will.”

Jackie: “I know I’m right. They can’t do this to me.”

Me: “This isn’t a good idea…but okay. It’s your show.”

So, he just sat back and let it happen.

In we went, and sat down. The senior HR guy I mentioned earlier was there, and he gave me a funny look when I sat back, laptop closed, and said nothing – dismissal meetings are actually our meeting, and we get to run them from start to finish – they’re there to listen.

She started talking…and I have to give them credit, they took notes, listened to the things she said, and kept straight faces the entire time.

It went exactly as I figured it would – just the things they’d asked her about in the first of the several meetings I attended with Jackie had covered terminable offenses on at least four or five different subjects, independent of one another.

At the end, when she finally wound down, they all turned to me (Jackie included) and asked if I had anything I wanted to cover or that I thought may have been missed.

“Nope,” I said. “I think she covered everything already, I don’t have anything to add.”

That afternoon, I got the union copy of her dismissal notice. Generally, they are open to at least discussing the option of the worker resigning, and giving them a neutral reference going forward, but that wasn’t in the cards.

The last I had heard of Jackie, the Department of Justice was involved with her and her husband, and I’m reasonably confident that it didn’t go well for her either. I do know that she will never work for the government again, as the letter was pretty explicit about what information they would release to any government agency asking for a reference.

So it goes – they followed the collective bargaining agreement, terminating her with ample Just Cause.

Did Reddit find this one satisfying? Let’s find out!

The top comment says some people just want to keep all the rope to themselves.

Source: Reddit/AITA

Lying usually makes things worse.

Source: Reddit/AITA

Apparently there are too many people out there not being careful about work computers.

Source: Reddit/AITA

Most of the times, unions know exactly what they can and can’t win.

Source: Reddit/AITA

This was pretty jaw-dropping stuff.

Source: Reddit/AITA

I, too, always think I’ve been surprised what people try to get away with.

And then I read a story like this.