2011 Had Its Share of Wacky Work Stories

By Kathy Gurchiek Dec 30, 2011
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Whether it was the man who faked his mother’s obituary to get time off or a new law making Romanian witches pay taxes, there was no shortage of wacky, bizarre and sometimes perplexing work-related stories in 2011.

In December, a 45-year-old Pennsylvania man submitted a false obituary of his very-much-alive 71-year-old mother to the local newspaper. Things all went horribly wrong for Scott Bennett when his employer, in an attempt to send flowers, called the funeral home.

When it became clear that no such funeral was planned, the employer called the editor of the paper that had published the obituary; the editor then called police, according to one news account. Relatives of the woman also called the paper to report the error, and the woman visited the newspaper office.

Bennett told police he resorted to the ploy because he didn’t want to get fired for taking time off from the factory where he worked, according to various news reports. He was charged with disorderly conduct and likely can expect a lot of unpaid time off.

Spellbinding Move

Even witches in Romania can’t catch a break anymore, thanks to the economy.

They’ll have to pay 16 percent income tax and contribute to health and pension programs, similar to other people who are self-employed, according to TheNew York Times.

The government there changed its labor laws to include witchcraft among jobs that can be taxed. The action was an attempt to cut down on tax cheats by upgrading the country’s official list of “real jobs,” according to The Associated Press. Less mainstream jobs such as astrologer and fortuneteller had been excluded from taxation.

The government might want to reconsider its actions, though.

One witch unhappy with the new development, the Times reported, planned to cast a hex against the government … something involving a dead dog and cat excrement. That can’t be good.

But My Boss Stresses Punctuality…

An off-duty Miami police officer rushing to get to his second job at a school was running late and apparently thought it was a good idea to drive his patrol car at 120 mph along the Florida Turnpike. A Florida Highway Patrol officer stopped him around 6:30 a.m. after chasing him for seven minutes. The off-duty officer was initially handcuffed and later released after being ticketed for dangerous driving. He was ordered to appear in court for the misdemeanor. The police department was launching its own investigation, according to a Miami Herald report.

Falling Short on Employee Engagement

In Iowa, the owner of QC Mart, a chain of convenience stores, came up with what he thought was a great game—asking workers to submit dated, signed guesses as to which cashier would be fired next for various infractions.

There was a $10 cash prize for the correct answer. Workers were outraged, and some quit as soon as they realized that the boss was serious.

The owner challenged the unemployment claim of one cashier who quit, and the dispute led to a hearing with an administrative law judge. The judge noted the employer’s actions created “an intolerable” work environment and awarded the former cashier her unemployment benefits, according to a Des Moines Register report.

Short-Sighted Action

A woman hired on a trial basis at a Starbucks in El Paso, Texas, in May was fired after three days because the employer thought she was too short to do the job. The woman, who is a dwarf, had requested an accommodation—a stool or small stepladder—but was refused.

In August, the Starbucks Coffee Co. agreed to pay $75,000 and provide other significant relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had brought against it, charging it with violating Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

No One Noticed

Some workers might appear dead-tired, but a 51-year-old Los Angeles county worker in California was more than sleep-deprived. Her lifeless body was “slumped over her desk for hours,” according to a “Fox News” report.

She had been working in a vacant cubicle among a row of other unoccupied cubicles and no one realized she was dead until the following day, a Saturday, when a security guard made the discovery after responding to a call from concerned family members.

One employee had seen her around 5 p.m. the previous day, according to another news account. Foul play was not suspected in the death of the woman, who normally worked at another California city location as an auditor.

High Achiever

It’s not clear whether unlimited munchies are among the benefits William Breathes enjoys in his job writing for Denver’s weekly alternative paper, where he is a professional marijuana critic for Westworld.

Breathes—a pen name he uses to protect his identity, much like a restaurant reviewer—critiques the more than 300 marijuana dispensaries in the city, according to an NPR story.

Colorado has permitted medical use of marijuana since 2000; the U.S. Attorney General’s office in 2009 announced it would not prosecute users if a state permits marijuana use for medical reasons.

Breathes writes about such issues as a dispensary’s cleanliness and the quality of the marijuana that is grown and dispensed. Apparently he knows of what he writes. According to NPR, Breathes has used marijuana medically for years, enjoys it recreationally and still makes his deadline.

Far out.

Supportive Environment

A court ruled in January 2011 that German companies may require female employees to wear bras at work and stipulate how long their fingernails may be, according to one news report.

The issue arose after a dispute involving a company that conducts airport passenger security checks. The company, working under a federal police contract, requires that female employees wear nude-colored or white bras or undershirts “to preserve an orderly appearance” while in the company uniform. Also, it may require clean hair and dictate that male employees be clean-shaven or have a well-groomed beard, according to the news report.

However, the company can’t dictate hair color or nail polish shade.

Days of Week Underwear Not Addressed

Employees of Swiss bank UBS learned in January 2011 that their employer was relaxing its exacting, 44-page dress code that forbade workers to wear red underwear, dictated against “showy” nail polish colors such as black and blue, and warned employees against eating onions and garlic.

In addition, the old dress code instructed employees on reapplying deodorant during the day if they sweat excessively, advised men against using tie knots that don’t match their face or body shape, and made black belts mandatory for men.

Did Someone Say Black Belt?

Having a black belt might be a good thing if you’re an employee at Hong Kong Airlines, where employees are requiring flight crews to master wing chun, a form of kung fu, according to various news reports.

Apparently, cabin crews have to deal with unruly passengers at least three times a week. The idea behind the training is that being able to bust a Bruce Lee-like martial arts move will allow crew members to handle out-of-control passengers better.

A Cushy…er, Tushy Jo



Much like the delicate princess in the Hans Christian Andersen tale who could detect a pea through 20 mattresses and 20 feather beds, this hotel bouncer has an ability to sense even the tiniest mattress lumps among the beds in the chain’s 602 hotels.

It’s a full-time job helping to test the comfort level of 46,000 beds every six months.

The company is looking into insuring her keisterfor the equivalent of nearly $8 million U.S. dollars for the approximately 20 minutes she spends on each of the beds. Natalie Thomas’ bosses provide her with a special chair she uses on a two-week break period between assignments.

They want to protect her assets.

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editorfor HR News.

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