Workplace Got 'Curiouser and Curiouser' in 2008

By Kathy Gurchiek Dec 8, 2008
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Did you hear about the guy who talked his pal into shooting him in the shoulder so he wouldn’t have to go to work?

It’s no joke. Daniel Kuch of Pasco, Wash., told deputies he was the victim of a drive-by shooting while he was running but eventually acknowledged he had asked his friend to shoot him so he could grab some time off from work and avoid an upcoming drug test, according to a March 6, 2008, report from The Associated Press.

The story is among the wacky, quirky and oddball workplace stories from around the globe in 2008.

Drunken Lemurs

A worker at the Catfish Bend Casino in Burlington, Iowa lost his job in 2007 after posting a “Dilbert” comic strip on an office bulletin board, but “Dilbert” cartoonist Scott Adams came to the man’s defense in 2008, mocking the management in a plot line that reflected the worker’s predicament.

In the cartoon, according to a Dec. 17, 2007, Des Moines Register news report, Dilbert asks a garbage man “Why does it seem as if most of the decisions in my workplace are made by drunken lemurs?”

David Steward, who had worked at the casino for seven years, posted the cartoon as a morale booster after the company announced it would be closing, resulting in 170 workers being laid off.

Management, however, wasn’t amused at being compared to inebriated furry, tree-dwelling nocturnal primates with large eyes, long tails and pointed muzzles.

It reviewed surveillance tapes to find the culprit, and Steward was fired after his boss told him he wasn’t a team player, according to a news report.

After firing him, management challenged Steward’s claim for unemployment benefits but lost.

When Adams heard of Steward’s plight, he created a plot line in February 2008 that reflected the man’s experience, ABC News reported. In one panel, the boss asks if employees think drunken lemurs are like managers. The character Wally replies, “No. Some lemurs can hold their liquor.” And in another strip, Wally is told he’s being fired for posting a comic strip comparing managers to drunken lemurs.

“The moral of this story,” Adams wrote on his blog, “is that if you plan to circulate a ‘Dilbert’ comic calling your boss a drunken lemur, the best way is to use your boss’s unattended computer to e-mail it to the entire company.”

Extreme Measures

A group of workers in France resorted to extreme measures in February 2008 after discovering their boss planned to move the operations to Slovakia without their knowledge.

Employees claimed they had not been paid in January 2008, and a group of them

took Michael Bacon hostage on Saturday, Feb. 1 and “stopped three out of seven lorries they saw leaving the factory on Saturday on unscheduled deliveries to Slovakia,” the BBC reported March 5, 2008.

The factory where they worked had been purchased the previous year by United Kingdom-based Utilux, which already had another plant in Slovakia. Employees freed Bacon two days later after taking him to court to file for bankruptcy.

Heartache Leave

In Japan, employees at marketing company Hime & Co can take paid leave after a bad break-up with a partner.

The leave increases with the employee’s age—one day per year for employees age 24 and younger; two days for those age 25 through 29, and older employees can take three days off from the Tokyo-based firm, according to a Jan. 28 news report from Reuters.

“Not everyone needs to take maternity leave, but with heartbreak, everyone needs time off, just like when you get sick,” the Hime & Co. CEO told Reuters.

This is the same company that gives employees two mornings off twice a year for “sales shopping leave” to hunt for bargains.

Harried Teacher

A 61-year-old British school teacher who retired in 2007 tried to claim his baldness as a disability under the United Kingdom’s Disability Discrimination Act, but the courts apparently bristled at the idea.

James Campbell, a former high school art teacher, claimed he suffered harassment from pupils because of a lack of hirsuteness, and he suffered a lowered sense of confidence to perform his work. It also caused him to avoid school corridors and to leave the school later than students to avoid catcalls of “baldy,” the BBC reported in April 2008.

In a different kind of discrimination suit, a heterosexual worker won her case against a gay night club in the United Kingdom.

A 33-year-old married woman with three children alleged she was the victim of sexual orientation discrimination. She claimed she was subjected to abuse frequently because she was not a lesbian. Her claims included being called derogatory names such as “breeder” by her manager and that she was unfairly dismissed—without warning after a dispute with a colleague, the BBC reported.

Throwing Out the Employee with the Bathwater

A 25-year-old Burger King employee thought it would be amusing to post a video of himself bathing in the restaurant’s large kitchen sink, which is used to clean large pieces of equipment.

Instead he saw his job go down the drain.

The chain fired Timothy Tackett, an aspiring musician who performed the stunt on his birthday on Aug. 25, 2008. Two employees who participated in the video were fired, and another quit.

Employees spent more than an hour cleaning the sink, according to a USA Today report.

Burger King said it disposed of all the kitchen tools and utensils that were used and was retraining staff in health and sanitation procedures, Ohio’s Cleveland Plain Dealer reported.

Rethink that Reference

A Pittsburgh employer following up on a reference a job applicant provided found that the prospective hire was accused of stealing about $5,000 from the very employer she gave as a reference.

The woman’s former employer, North Dakota-based Murphy Motors, contacted the police with her whereabouts and she was arrested in May 2008.

Employee Goes Rogue

An employee deleted electronic architectural drawings valued at $2.5 million from her employer’s computers when she saw a help-wanted ad in the newspaper for a job she thought sounded like the one she held.

The ad that appeared in a newspaper included her boss’s phone number and e-mail address, and she assumed she was about to be fired, according to a report.

She called in sick that day and the next day contacted her boss’s wife, who tried to persuade the woman that the ad had nothing to do with her job; supposedly it was an ad for the business the boss’s wife ran.

The worker didn’t believe her and entered the premises late at night for her covert operation. She was charged with causing damage of more than $1,000 to computer files. The employer was able to recover the files.

Drive This, Keep Your Job

In mid-August, the mayor of Warren, Mich., a large Detroit suburb where a large number of residents are autoworkers, “strongly suggested” to his 40-to-50 department heads that the next car they buy should be an American one.

“Legally, since they are ‘at-will’ employees, I have the right to mandate, and an expectation that they will meet that mandate,” Mayor Jim Fouts said in a September 2008 news report.

Calling it “economic patriotism,” Fouts says he expects employees to drive General Motors or Chrysler vehicles—he drives a 2001 Chrysler Concorde—as both companies have manufacturing or assembly plants in his town and GM has a Tech Center there.

Warm Reception

A company in Sweden that owns Stockholm’s central commuter station says it plans to channel the warmth of passenger bodies to heat a 13-story office block being built next to the station, the BBC reported in February 2008.

Engineers for the Jernhusen company hope this will meet up to 15 percent of the building’s heating needs. The building will provide space for offices, hotels, restaurants and shops and is expected to be completed by 2010. The idea is to use heat exchangers in the station’s ventilation system to transfer body heat energy into hot water that is pumped into the new building’s heating system.

The BBC reports that some buildings already use this concept, but this would be the first time excess heat would be transferred from one building to another.

Where There’s Smoke…

An errand for a packet of tea bags resulted in a self-employed painter and decorator getting pulled over by a British council official and being fined for smoking in his van.

He was told he had broken the smoking laws because his van is his place of work.

“It’s not my place of work—I decorate houses, not vans,” the 58-year-old Gordon Williams told the Telegraph in a July 2008 news story.

Driving while smoking is not illegal, the Telegraph pointed out, but “changes to the Highway Code introduced last year included it as a form of ‘distraction’ along with activities such as reading maps.”

Raising the Bar

If you feel that work could drive you to drink, it’s easier to do if you work at the Ogilvy East Africa Group office in Nairobi.

Called the O-bar, it’s like an exclusive club complete with balcony where “staff are allowed to invite clients, journalists and suppliers to mingle, network and bond,” according to a January 2008 Business Daily story. It serves beer and other alcoholic drinks, soft drinks and food.

There was no word on whether lemur-like supervisors frequent the place.

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News. She can be reached at

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