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Friday Fail: Worst Fireable Offenses

Tired of success stories? Every Friday on Inc.com we bring you epic tales of failure and shame. This week: Getting sacked.

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Most people like a good success story, but who can resist an epic tale of disaster, humiliation, embarrassment, and shame? I know I can't.

Here's how the Inc. Friday Fail works: Every Friday I post a new topic, invite readers to send in their favorite stories, and publish the best the following week.

Last week's topic was The Most Bizarre Interview.

This week it's The Worst Fireable Offense: The worst thing an employee has done... or you've done.

Here we go:

4. Coffee Shop Clusterf***

My wife manages a coffee shop in Orange County, CA. Here are a few highlights:

An employee insisted on hugging a customer after they made an order and after they repeatedly said they didn't want to be hugged.  Fortunately, no one was sued.  Said employee was fired, though.

Another employee once took a nap during a shift, which isn't too crazy of a thing to fire someone over, except the employee took the nap on the counter where drinks are made.  Yes, there were customers in the store.

And probably the dumbest story I ever heard from her:  My wife gave an employee a verbal warning for an offense that should have resulted in a written warning. Instead of being grateful for the issue not going on their record, the employee ratted my wife out to the owner for not writing them up.  Against everything you ever would have thought would have happened (sarcasm intended), the owner then not only wrote up but also fired the employee.

We still don't have a clue what the employee thought would happen when they told the owner.—Jason

3. The Train Wreck

As a freshly educated freight train conductor, I had accurately copied down the details from dispatch for our track warrant.  It stated we were to pull into a siding ahead to allow a train going the opposite direction to pass.

As we rounded a curve going about 40 mph, another train sat patiently staring at us--unquestionably occupying the track our momentum intended to claim as its own.

My engineer, the "driver" of the train, had misread the warrant.  The train ahead was the one we were scheduled to meet--sitting right where it was told to be.  We weren't going to stop in time so I popped the emergency brake and waited for the inevitable.

When two freight trains hit nose-to-nose, 15 mph is fast!  All our wheels miraculously stayed on the track and everyone was okay, but our two engines lost power.  After getting our second engine running, we crawled backwards and quietly ducked into the siding.

Shhhh!

I grew increasingly nervous that our secret little run-in would somehow be discovered. But less than 30 minutes after resuming our journey on the main line, my worries were over.

I still don't know how that dump truck driver didn't see us when he decided to cross the track. His willingness to go for a spin like a top in his truck after we hit him provided us the perfect scapegoat.

If something was not quite right with the train now it would naturally be the dump truck's fault... right?

Nobody was fired that day, but strangely enough, after a couple more "incidents" I ended up pursuing a career in sales.—Keith

2. The Water Bottler

I worked for the county in a crappy, low-paying, do-whatever-we-tell-you-and-like-it job.

One of my duties was to collect water samples when homeowners and developers drilled wells. A lab would then test the water to make sure the water and the well was okay for construction to continue.

One day I was supposed to take a number of samples at a huge neighborhood site under development. I met the owner/developer there and he said, "I really hope this goes well. I can't afford to dig deeper wells or more wells. That will put me out of business."

Then he gave me this serious look. "I'm so desperate I would give someone $1,000 right now if they could promise me these tests will pass," he said.

It took me longer than I like to admit to figure out what he was getting at. I might have been slow on the uptake but I was an ambitious young lad, so once I did figure it out I quickly decided I was willing to work two jobs.

He drove away (plausible deniability I guess?) I figured the easiest thing to do was to fill all the sample containers with bottled water since I had some bottles in the truck. Took me less than 10 minutes to fill and mark all the containers. Still the highest per-hour rate I've ever earned.

Then a week later the tests came back. Every one of them had failed. The lab also noted that it was highly unusual for all the samples to be identical considering they were taken at different locations across a large geographic area.

I now know some bottled waters are not so pure and I have the distinction of getting fired from two "jobs" in the same day. How many other people can say that?—Reggie

1. The Bait and Switch... and Switch

I work for a group health insurance company.  One day while visiting a client I walked in seconds after a terrible firing. The HR manager was kind enough to share the story:

An employee was told he was being fired due to problems with his drug test. The employee immediately got mad and said, "I know I could not have failed the test. I am not on drugs!"

The HR Manager responded, "Maybe not, but your urine sample says you're pregnant."

The man immediately put his head in his hands while the HR manager explained he was being fired for faking his test.

The employee started sobbing and shaking, and the HR manager tried to console him, saying, "Look on the bright side. You and your wife have been blessed with a baby."

The man tearfully responded, "You don't understand. I used my girlfriend's urine. I had no idea she was pregnant!"

I would chalk that up as a bad firing.—Eric T.

Next week's Friday Fail Topic: Worst Workplace Romance. Describe the dumbest romance, or the one with the worst consequences, or the one that was carried out, um, less than discreetly....

Send your stories to fridayfail@blackbirdinc.com. Feel free to share a story from your business, from a friend's... or even just a business urban legend.

And if you want to remain anonymous--especially if the worst workplace romance was yours--let me know.

Then tune in next Friday!

Last updated: Apr 6, 2012

JEFF HADEN learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.
@jeff_haden




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